The Education Committee heard testimony Feb. 24 on a bill that would repeal a requirement that teachers and certain other school personnel take an oath to uphold the Constitution.
Current law requires teachers and other school employees paid from public school funds to swear that they will support and defend the U.S. Constitution and the Nebraska Constitution and that they do not advocate—and are not a member of any political party or organization that advocates—the overthrow of the U.S. or state governments.
LB1177, introduced by Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt, would exempt teachers and other school personnel from that requirement.
The bill also would repeal a law requiring public school teachers and other employees paid from public school funds to sign a pledge in which they acknowledge it to be their duty to inculcate students, in part, with “a love and devotion to the policies and institutions that have made America the finest country in the world in which to live.”
Hunt said the laws were passed at the height of the second Red Scare, when states around the country implemented loyalty oaths for public officials out of fear of communism.
The U.S. Supreme Court has since held that public employees cannot be required to sign or take oaths as a condition of employment and that attempting to mandate the personal beliefs of teachers and students violates the Constitution, she said.
“Teachers have academic freedom and may teach from a wide range of materials and, so long as they instruct consistent with a teaching curriculum and comply with all other conditions of employment, they should not be subjected to a political or patriotic purity test,” Hunt said.
Spike Eickholt of the ACLU of Nebraska testified in support of LB1177, saying it would update or repeal statutes that are vague, unworkable and unconstitutional.
He said current law requires all public employees paid with public funds, not only teachers and those paid from public school funds, to take the oath, although state agencies do not seem to enforce it. However, Eickholt said, the ACLU occasionally receives reports of school districts requiring teachers to take the oath and sign the pledge.
“Some districts seemingly aren’t enforcing it,” he said. “Some are applying it sort of haphazardly.”
Also testifying in support was Brian Halstead of the state Department of Education. He said requiring teachers to take an oath or sign a pledge is inconsistent with their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of belief.
No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.