Red Scare: Nebraska school district asks staff to sign McCarthy-era loyalty pledge
Former Republican Senator Joe McCarthy, the leader of anti-communist witch hunts in the 1950s (Wikimedia Commons)

More than 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, a school district in Nebraska is asking teachers to sign an oath designed to root out communist sympathizers.

Hastings Public Schools administrators have asked all staff to attest to their "love and devotion to" the United States government by signing the McCarthy-era loyalty pledge. The school administration says it must ask staff to sign the document because of a 1951 state law that is still on the books.

"We're not trying to violate anyone's constitutional rights," Hastings Schools Superintendent Craig Kautz told the Associated Press. "As a public school, we can't selectively decide what laws we abide by and which ones we don't. I just hope we don't get dragged into something that's above our level."

During the last school year, individuals contacted Kautz about the loyalty pledge and asked why the district did not have its staff sign it. Kautz contacted the district’s attorneys, who told him that Nebraska still had two loyalty pledge statutes on the books -- and only one of them was unconstitutional.

Kautz said teachers who don't sign the loyalty pledge will not face adverse consequences, because there is no penalty provision in the law.

“Our job is to comply with the law to the best of our ability but to say that we are forcing employees to take a McCarthy-era loyalty oath is just not accurate," he told the Lincoln Journal Star.

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska says what the school district is doing is still unconstitutional.

"These oaths or pledges violate the Constitution. They are unduly vague and infringe on the First Amendment rights of the employees," the ACLU wrote in a letter to the school district.

"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."

Read the pledge below:

I, .........., do 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; a democracy in a republic; an indissoluble nation of many sovereign states; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.

I acknowledge it to be my duty to inculcate in the hearts and minds of all pupils in my care, so far as it is in my power to do, (1) an understanding of the United States Constitution and of the Constitution of Nebraska, (2) a knowledge of the history of the nation and of the sacrifices that have been made in order that it might achieve its present greatness, (3) a love and devotion to the policies and institutions that have made America the finest country in the world in which to live, and (4) opposition to all organizations and activities that would destroy our present form of government.