Formal pledges or affirmations to support and defend one’s country or a particular regime.
Throughout recorded history, governments and leaders have utilized loyalty oaths as a means of consolidating power and punishing nonconformists. In England, after the Reformation, such oaths had the effect of restricting the legal rights of Roman Catholics and other religious dissidents. In colonial America, citizens were typically required to take oaths to support and defend their commonwealths, and some oaths included the duty to report dissidents against the government. During the American Revolution,
In a 1952 Court decision, Justice Sherman Minton supported loyalty oaths, arguing that individuals could choose between public employment and organization membership.
Although the First Amendment suggests a significant degree of free expression, it has usually not been interpreted as prohibiting all mandatory oaths of loyalty to the United States. Only a small minority of citizens object to making nonreligious affirmations of general loyalty to their country. Nevertheless, there are law-abiding groups, including the Jehovah’s
Article VI of the U.S. Constitution requires the president, members of Congress
In Cole v. Richardson
Although Cole upheld the constitutionality of requiring adults to pledge loyalty as a condition of public employment, a federal Court of Appeals in 1994 ruled that such a requirement violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993)
Jurists distinguish between positive oaths to support one’s country and negative oaths to refrain from particular acts and associations. One variant of negative oaths, called “test oaths,”
In 1867, the Supreme Court challenged the constitutionality of these retrospective loyalty oaths in two decisions, Cummings v. Missouri
During World War I
Because of fears of communism
Federal courts began to support more libertarian positions during the 1950’s. Examining an Oklahoma law requiring public employees to take an oath disavowing membership in a subversive organization in Wieman v. Updegraff
During the 1960’s, the Supreme Court found that almost all forms of negative oaths were unconstitutional. In the most important such case, Elfbrandt v. Russell
Gardner, David. The California Oath Controversy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967. Hyman, Harold. To Try Men’s Souls: Loyalty Tests in American History. Westport, Conn,: Greenwood Press, 1982.
Bill of attainder
Douglas, William O.
Miller, Samuel F.
Swayne, Noah H.
World War II