From my perspective, academic freedom means that we have the right to engage in public discourse, the right to engage certainly in academic discourse, about issues that are of great importance, both long-term and short-term, both historical issues and current issues, both domestic issues and foreign issues, both popular issues and unpopular issues, and popular ideas and unpopular ideas. -- Marc Lamont HillI'm looking back, remembering the McCarthy period and the red scare, when thousands of teachers and other government workers, lost their jobs after being accused of being reds. My own parents were victims of that period.
Back then, teachers were forced to sign loyalty oaths to the United States and the flag. The oaths included swearing that you weren't a communist, socialist or member of any organization or movement opposed to the U.S. government or to the capitalist system.
In many states today, teachers and professors must still take a loyalty oath, but it's usually not as broad, after many 1st Amendment court suits.
Fast forward and we find teachers and college faculty now being forced to sign a new type of loyalty oath. But this time it's not to the U.S., but to the state of Israel. The new oath includes a promise not to support the boycott movement (BDS) at risk of being fired or worse.
Many have refused to sign, including Bahia Amawi, a children's speech pathologist who has worked for the last nine years with developmentally disabled, autistic, and speech-impaired elementary school students in Austin, Texas. Amawi, an American citizen of Palestinian descent, has been told that she can no longer work with the public school district. A lawsuit on her behalf was filed Monday alleging a violation of her First Amendment right of free speech.
On August 13, the school district once again offered to extend her contract for another year by sending her essentially the same contract and set of certifications she has received and signed at the end of each year since 2009.
She was prepared to sign her contract renewal until she noticed one new, and extremely significant, addition: a certification she was required to sign pledging that she “does not currently boycott Israel,” that she “will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract,” and that she shall refrain from any action “that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israeli or in an Israel-controlled territory.”
...That’s one extraordinary aspect of this story: The sole political affirmation Texans like Amawi are required to sign in order to work with the school district’s children is one designed to protect not the United States or the children of Texas, but the economic interests of Israel. As Amawi put it to The Intercept: “It’s baffling that they can throw this down our throats and decide to protect another country’s economy versus protecting our constitutional rights.”The latest assault on our First Amendment rights is not exclusive to Texas, nor to teachers. A few weeks ago, CNN severed its ties to African American Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill after Hill gave a speech at the United Nations supporting Palestinian rights. While the president of Temple University defended has right to free speech, the school’s Board of Trustees has condemned Hill's remarks.
Here in Chicago in 2015, in a shameful display of aldermanic toadyism, the city council unanimously passed -- 50-0 -- Resolution 2015-569 , pushing the Municipal Employees' Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago to divest from foreign companies seeking to economically boycott Israel.
That same year the Illinois legislature voted unanimously in favor of a similar bill impacting the state’s pension funds.
The unanimous vote came without a peep of resistance from progressive council members or even from socialist Ald. Carlos Rosa. Rosa, at one time a candidate for Lt. Gov., would later split with his running mate for governor, Daniel Biss over Biss' support for Israel.
I just read a Tribune article from 1996 pointing out that the state's loyalty oath can be traced to Clyde Choate, a former state representative from Anna.
Elected to the state House in 1946, he sponsored legislation creating the oath in 1951 after serving on an anti-communist legislative committee.
It was an anxious time, Choate said. What with the Second Red Scare when China fell, the dividing of Berlin and McCarthy making claims of communists in high government, the threat of the Soviet Union seemed quite real.
"You've got to remember, this is immediately after the cessation of hostilities in World War II. The whole world was extremely conscious of any `ism' other than `Americanism,' " he said.
Choate said he's surprised to hear that the oath still is being given out. In fact, he came to see it as unnecessary and ineffective and tried unsuccessfully to repeal it.The state loyalty oath in Illinois is now "voluntary". But I'll bet even the late Rep. Choate couldn't have imagined a mandatory loyalty oath to Israel.