Teacher Oath Upheld: Court in Newark Case Hold Anti-Communist Pledge Rule is Constitutional
March 12, 1951
TRENTON—The New Jersey Supreme Court today upheld the constitutionality of a 1949 state law requiring all school teachers in schools supported in whole or in part by public funds to take the so-called anti-Communist oath. The unanimous opinion of the court was by Justice Heher.
The court upheld the dismissal of George B. Thorp, a mechanical engineering teacher at Newark College of Engineering. Thorps' dismissal by the Board of Trustees of School for Industrial Education of Newark had been upheld by the state commissioner of Education. Thorp, who was retained in a non teaching capacity, appealed his dismissal to the Appellate Division, but the Supreme Court certified the case directly to that tribunal.
Thorp was dismissed by the college in 1950 after having refused to take the oath on the ground that the Tumulty-Mehorter act was unconstitutional.
A companion law in 1949 which required a non-Communist oath of candidates for elective public office had been set aside by the court as contrary to the general qualification required by the Constitution for candidates.
The Supreme Court held today that fundamental civil liberties are not violated by the anti-Communist oath. The oath requires a teacher to swear or affirm that he does not believe or advocate the sue of force or violence or unconstitutional means to overthrow the government of the United States or an individual state, and that he is not a member of any organization, group or party which advocates any of these means to overthrow government.
Taking up the question of the First Amendment of the Federal Constitution which guarantees a person's right to freedom of opinion or belief, the court said: "But the fundamental civil liberties here involved are not absolute. The particular guarantee of freedom of thought and opinion by the First Amendment is not free of all qualifications. Government has the inherent right of self-protection against the forces that would accomplish its overthrow by violence. It is of the very nature of the social compact that the individual freedoms at issue here are subject to reasonable restraint in the service of an interest deemed essential to the life of the community."
Heher said it was true our government had its genesis in revolution, but it was also true that changes in our government "shall be accompanied by orderly and lawful processes."
Heher said "It goes without saying that anarchic and kindred methods are alien to the spirit of our institutions. However, natural law may justify a revolt against tyranny, our democratic society is grounded upon the principle of liberty and order, and the preservations of our free institutions and the governmental structure that sustains them is a primary responsibility of government."
Heher said that the 1949 oath "is but an extension and elaboration of the traditional oath of allegiance in matters considered by the Legislature vital to the essential common security."
Purpose of the Oath
The purpose of the oath, he said, is not to probe the mind of the teacher for the punishment of unorthodox beliefs, but rather to determine the teacher's qualifications for the instruction of youth in the public schools. He said "The test is largely subjective to forestall hostile action in an area deemed vital to the community***the aim is not to stifle beliefs as such but to disqualify for teaching one who, however capacitated otherwise, believes in the objective of overthrow of the government, Federal or state, by force or violence or otherwise unlawful means***one so mentally conditioned is deemed unsuited for the instruction of youth in the schools supported by public funds."
Heher went into great length on all the questions surrounding the anti-Communist oath and the reasons therefore. He said that maintenance of the purity of the educational process against corruption by subversive influences is of the highest concern to society and that loyalty to government is a prime requisite for a teacher.
Concerning the danger of foreign ideologies, the court said: "We have long had evidences of the pressure here of a Godless ideology ruthlessly fostered by a foreign power which has for its aim the violent overthrow of government and free society. And one of its weapons is the debasement of teaching as a softening measure in the consummation of the subversive process. The school system affords the opportunity and means for subtle infiltration."
- According to the first paragraph, is Rutgers University affected by the NJ Supreme Court's decision? Explain.
- According to this article, what is the purpose of the loyalty oath?
- How does the NJ Supreme Court defend its position that the First Amendment is not "absolute"?
- What are the main goals of education and the roles of teachers within the classroom?
- If a teacher chooses to teach about communism during a class period, is that teacher going against the goals identified under question 4? Explain.