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Published: July 13, 2011

Loyalty oath

A publicly sworn affirmation of allegiance to state and/or country, required in many areas of the United States for teacher certification and employment by public schools. No different from similar oaths required for service as a public official, loyalty oaths for teachers became a center of controversy in 1949, when New York State passed the Feinberg Law. The act required the State Board of Regents to compile a list of organizations it deemed subversive and to disqualify members of such groups from teaching in the state’s public schools. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law in Adler v. Board of Education in 1952, only to reverse itself 15 years later in Keyishian v. Board of Regents by ruling that the law violated First Amendment guarantees of free speech.
The Court also struck down similar laws in other states that applied to civil servants, including teachers. The Court rulings, however, did not strike down the loyalty oath itself, but only the requirements that restrict an individual’s right to belong to any organization he chooses. In general, the Court’s rulings have affirmed the use of loyalty oaths so long as they remain positive in the sense of the individual’s obligations to the state and so long as they avoid all restrictive negatives that detail what oathtakers cannot do.