1976 September 9

U.S. Civil Service Commission Drops Loyalty Questions from Job Applications


On this day, the U.S. Civil Service Commission dropped a set of questions regarding loyalty to the U.S. from the standard application for federal jobs. The requirement originated with an executive order by President Dwight Eisenhower in April 1953. The Civil Service Commission acted in large part because of an adverse court ruling, holding that the loyalty questions “were so over-broad that they encroach on rights protected by the First Amendment.” One question asked directly was whether the applicant was a member of the Communist Party, and another asked about membership in “any group” over the previous ten years that advocated the overthrow of the government. The ACLU legal director hailed the removal of the loyalty oath as a “long overdue abolition of these relics of McCarthyism.”

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. For other loyalty oaths, see the famous University of California loyalty oath controversy (April 21, 1950); the loyalty oath for residents of federally-assisted public housing (July 5, 1952);  a loyalty oath for federal student loans (September 2, 1958); and even a loyalty oath for Medicare recipients (which was never enforced, February 13, 1967). Most such oaths had disappeared by the 1970s, and the U.S. Civil Service Commission appears to be one of the last organizations to drop its oath.

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