Friday, March 27, 2015

Loyalty Oath

The latest kerfluffle in the race for mayor is over loyalty oaths, or rather the signing of one. It appears that in the packet of papers each candidate receives is a loyalty oath, which has been included since the "Red Scare" days of the 1950s. Councilwoman Jane Adams says Mike Henry questioned if she had signed the loyalty oath (he says he did not) and she expanded on the situation in an email sent out today:

Loyalty Oaths in 2015?
In 2015 it’s hard to imagine that whether or not someone signs a Loyalty Oath is an issue in a city campaign. But just before the League of Women Voters debate began, Mike Henry came up to me, leaned very close to me, and in a low voice asked me if I had signed the loyalty oath that is included in petitions for running for public office. He had submitted a FOIA for my petitions, he said, and he didn’t see it.
I was too dumbfounded by his question to make much of a response. He turned and walked away. It was a momentary encounter. But quite disturbing. Why in the world would a Mayoral candidate challenge another Mayoral candidate about signing an obsolete and basically meaningless document?
I posted the incident on my Facebook page, where it has elicited a number of responses. Here is why I found the encounter disturbing:
I am old enough to remember when I had to sign a loyalty oath in order to work as a student worker in the cafeteria at SIU. I was about to embark as a volunteer for Freedom Summer – a project that aimed to gain voting rights and other basic civil rights for African Americans in Mississippi. At the time, many state governments, including Illinois, required all state employees to sign a loyalty oath.
In many places, organizations like the ones sponsoring Freedom Summer (NAACP, SCLC, SNCC, CORE) were considered “subversive”; in Mississippi the State Sovereignty Commission spent a lot of time and energy monitoring our activities. 
Nationally, the FBI kept files on tens of thousands of citizens who protested against the status quo, including participation in civil rights activities. Loyalty oaths could be, and were, used to threaten people’s jobs. Many academics and others – including a number who were refugees from Nazi Germany – were blacklisted. It was not a happy time for defenders of our civil liberties.
Thankfully, those days are behind us. In 1964 the U.S. Supreme Court found that Washington state’s loyalty oath was unconstitutional; as the Southern Illinoisan’s article states, Illinois’ loyalty oath was struck down by the State Supreme Court in 1969.
The Loyalty Oath that Mr. Henry questioned me about sounds increasingly archaic as the Cold War fades into history. As the Southern quotes Jackson County Clerk Larry Reinhardt, “It is a completely irrelevant form.”
If, as Mr. Henry states, the issue of whether or not I had signed the loyalty oath “had been brought to his attention by voters,” and, ”if he “didn’t think much of it after reading it,” why did he approach me in such menacing manner?
Whatever the case, this campaign is not about questioning citizens’ loyalties; it is about the future of Carbondale. As I said after the Southern Illinoisan debate ( video link here), voters have a clear choice: a “can do” attitude vs. “it can’t be done”; a primary concern for the future of the City, its residents and businesses vs. concern for the internal workings of City Hall; enlisting the energy and talents of our community to grow our economy vs. shrinking back to the “core obligations of our city government;” and developing strategic approaches to fiscal constraints vs. continually raising taxes.
My record is clear: During my four years on City Council I’ve written 166 posts (this is number 167) about issues facing the city. If you elect me Mayor, you will know where I stand on issues. And you will know that I will respond to your communications – and respond with respect, whether or not I agree with your views.
As a young woman I risked my life in Mississippi to help make the American promise of “liberty and justice for all” a living reality. There’s not a chance I’ll back down from that commitment now.

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