Quaker Teacher Fired For Not Taking an Oath

This may be old news for some of you but last week Quaker Wendy Gonaver, an American Studies professor at Cal State Fullerton here in LA, was fired for refusing to sign the loyalty oath.

The LA Times reports:

As a Quaker from Pennsylvania and a lifelong pacifist, Gonaver objected to the California oath as an infringement of her rights of free speech and religious freedom. She offered to sign the pledge if she could attach a brief statement expressing her views, a practice allowed by other state institutions. But Cal State Fullerton rejected her statement and insisted that she sign the oath if she wanted the job.

“I wanted it on record that I am a pacifist,” said Gonaver, 38. “I was really upset. I didn’t expect to be fired. I was so shocked that I had to do this.”

(From Teacher fired for refusing to sign loyalty oath – Los Angeles Times)

This is the second time in the last year that a Quaker woman has been fired from a teaching Job in California for this reason. I personally am inspired by their witness in this situation, I can’t imagine how difficult it must be. But I have reflected on how I would like to respond if I were in their position. I certainly hope to teach someday, and I wonder if I would be able to lay my job on the line for something I too believe it.

I did find it interesting that the Times doesn’t really explain why Quakers don’t take oaths, it just says they do. And I also wondered to what extent Wendy Gonaver’s belief sided with historic Quakerism on the issue.  Pink Dandelion says of early Friends (such rabble-rousers!):

“They refused to pay church tithes which were used to fund the upkeep of ‘mashhouses’ or ‘steeplehouses’ and ‘hireling ministers’, as they called them, and once in court for this offence or any of the other laws they fell foul of, they would refuse to swear on oath. In Matthew, it says to ‘swear not at all’, and Quakers felt it implied a double-standard to swear to tell the truth in court when they claimed they maintained honesty and integrity at all times. Exchanges in court over Quaker witness or testimony were often turned into preaching opportunities by these early Friends” (Dandelion, 2008:12)

Isn’t it the case the Gonaver, and the others mentioned in the article, have this opportunity once again to witness to the power of the Spirit? Jesus’ refusing to accept the double-standard, or double-speak, of our world challenges our allegiances at its very core. There is no easy way around this command, and the Friends showed just how much trouble taking Jesus seriously can get you into.

Here are relevant passages of Scriptures concerning oaths are:

Matt. 5:36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.
Matt. 5:37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

James 5:12 ¶ Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “Yes??? be yes and your “No??? be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

And is not this Jesus-like refusal to accept a double-standard still needed in our world today?Yes, and possibly even more so! Especially when the oath Gonaver and others were asked to take was one that implied a taking up of arms in defense of the nation (not what the early Friends were challenging), which is another hang up that Jesus, as well as a big part of the church, has had. I think what we see with these contemporary Friends is not only an example of this classic refusal in action, but they also help to make it relevant to some of the major pressing questions of the time.