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Lecturer allowed to add to oath

With the loyalty issue resolved, the pacifist will be hired to teach two courses next fall at Cal State Fullerton.

June 03, 2008|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

A Cal State Fullerton lecturer who lost her job because she objected to signing a loyalty oath was reappointed Monday to teach next fall in an agreement worked out between the university and a national civil rights group.

Wendy Gonaver, a Quaker and pacifist who said that California's required loyalty oath violated her religious beliefs and her right of free speech, will be allowed to attach a personal statement of her views when she signs the pledge.

"It feels great," Gonaver said Monday. "It sounds like this was a controversy no one particularly wanted and they are happy to resolve it."

The loyalty oath was added to the California Constitution in 1952 in an attempt to force communists out of public jobs, but in recent years it appears to have done more to keep out religious believers, such as Quakers and Jehovah's Witnesses.

Gonaver, who had been hired to teach American and women's studies last fall, was told just before classes began that she had to sign the oath promising to defend the U.S. and California constitutions "against all enemies, foreign and domestic." She refused to sign unless she could attach a personal statement, a practice allowed at the University of California.

People for the American Way, a Washington-based civil liberties group, took up Gonaver's cause after The Times reported on her case last month.

Judith Schaeffer, an attorney with the group, said she was pleased that the university agreed so quickly to give Gonaver her job back. Gonaver will teach the same two classes she was originally hired to teach.

"It just cried out for a resolution," Schaeffer said. "This is a win-win situation for Wendy and for CSU. Wendy will have her job and she will have it on her own terms."

Cal State officials said they were happy to have the disagreement behind them.

"CSU is committed to working with individual employees to accommodate their religious beliefs in order to allow them to sign the oath," Christine Helwick, Cal State's general counsel, said in a joint news release issued with People for the American Way. "In this case, we are pleased that this dispute ended in a positive resolution and that we were able to work through the process together."

Cal State Fullerton had initially told Gonaver that she was not allowed to attach a personal statement to the oath. Later, the university told The Times that Gonaver's six-sentence statement was against the law because it contradicted the oath.

Under the agreement, Cal State will accept a briefer statement from Gonaver in which she says that she supports and respects both constitutions but objects "as an American" to being compelled to sign the oath. She also writes that, as a Quaker, she does not promise to bear arms or otherwise engage in violence.

Earlier this year, Cal State East Bay fired another Quaker instructor, Marianne Kearney-Brown, after she altered the oath by adding the word "nonviolently." She was rehired days later after her case became public.

Schaeffer said she expects Gonaver's settlement to set a precedent for other Cal State employees.

"The resolution they reached here is one they should have reached last August," Schaeffer said. "I think it's just unfortunate that the right people at CSU didn't become involved earlier."

Claudia Keith, a spokeswoman for the university system, said it would not be adopting a new policy on how to handle such cases but would notify administrators on the 23 campuses of the agreement in Gonaver's case.

Keith acknowledged that the dispute could have been handled better, adding, "We certainly respect employees' rights to believe in anything they want to believe in."

The settlement, Keith added, is good for everyone. "She gets to teach and we get a lecturer we wanted," she said.

For Gonaver, taking a stand on the oath will give her a new perspective when it comes to teaching her American studies class. Part of the course deals with protecting constitutional freedoms.

"I feel like I will be able to better teacher because of this experience," she said. "This section has become personally meaningful to me in a way that it wasn't before."

--

richard.paddock@latimes.com

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