1967 September 11

Kansas Loyalty Oath Declared Unconstitutional

 

A federal judge on this day declared unconstitutional a Kansas loyalty oath for public officials and employees. The law that created the oath was enacted in 1949 at the height of the Cold War. The plaintiff in the case was Dr. Gerald Ehrenreich, a psychologist at the University of Kansas Medical Center and chairperson of the Greater Kansas City chapter of the ACLU.

The insidious aspect of all the loyalty oaths of the Cold War era was that they had nothing to do with any specific criminal or unprofessional conduct on the part of individuals required to sign them.

Loyalty oaths were a special mania during the anti-Communist frenzy of the Cold War. Unlike traditional oaths of office which involve an oath to uphold the Constitution and the law, Cold War loyalty oaths required people to swear that they were not members of the Communist Party and/or other radical parties or movements. Thus, they were oaths regarding membership and beliefs without reference to any actual or planned illegal action. A major controversy surrounded the University of California loyalty oath for its faculty (see April 21, 1950). Congress created a loyalty oath for residents of federally assisted public housing (July 5, 1952), a loyalty oath for all applicants for federal jobs (which Civil Service dropped from its applications on September 9, 1976), and even one for Medicare recipients (the government decided not to enforce it on February 13, 1967).

Learn more about the history of loyalty oaths: Harold Hyman, To Try Men’s Souls: Loyalty Tests in American History (1959)

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