A Nebraska state law requiring teachers to pledge their allegiance to America is being called unconstitutional by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The state currently requires teachers to promise to instill a love of America in their students as a condition of employment. However, the ACLU is now saying that the 1951 law is outdated. While it is mainly ignored in the state, one district is continuing to ask its teachers to sign a pledge of allegiance to the country and to teach the same values to their students.
The pledge includes a declaration that they "believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed." Teachers in the state must also agree that America is the greatest nation in the world.
However, in a letter to the district, the ACLU states that several times since the law came into being in 1951, the US Supreme Court has ruled that public employees cannot be forced to sign this sort of pledge.
"You need to know that the statute is a dead letter law which has been clearly overruled by the highest court in the land. Attempting to enforce the state statue is unconstitutional and will expose the school district to liability to a civil rights lawsuit," the ACLU wrote in the letter, dated Friday.
Amy Miller, legal director for ACLU of Nebraska, said they have received a number of complaints about the pledge from teachers, resembling others they have received over the years concerning the law. However, this is the first time the letter has been able to reach the public.
"The employees we've spoken to love their jobs. But they have deeply held beliefs that do not permit them to sign an outdated McCarthy era pledge," she wrote. "I am sure that your office wants to support valuable employees and not force them to choose between their jobs and their principles."
Craig Kautz, Superintendent for Hastings Public Schools, said that while the pledge had not been used in the district prior to this year — and that he hadn't even heard of the law before — he had been advised by legal staff to follow it this year.
"So, for the first time in my working career we basically asked our staff to do that — our teaching staff — the minimum required by statute," said Kautz, who has been an educator in Nebraska for decades.
He went on to say that signing the pledge was not a requirement, as staff members were not faced with any repercussions should they choose not to sign. Asking teachers to sign the pledge is all the law requires.
The ACLU told the district it would "close its file" if the district told its teachers within seven days that they did not have to sign the pledge.