Teacher oaths, a Tuba Guy, and the Wayback Machine!

On February 12th we told you about the Non-Subversive Oath that Texas educators were required to sign during the McCarthy Era “Red Scare.”  I’m grateful to John Droll, a Daily Dawg subscriber from Itasca ISD (Go Wampus Cats!) who tipped me off to a federal court case from 1968 involving this oath.

The case involved a tuba instructor in the newly created Dallas County Junior College, now known as El Centro College. Tuba instructor!! This reminds me of “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” in which Gary Cooper plays an eccentric tuba player.  Those tuba guys. Sheesh. 

Anyway, Mr. Everett Gilmore (Tuba Guy) balked when the newly created junior college asked him to sign a loyalty oath. This was September, 1966.  Not much money was involved.  Tuba Guy was due to receive $150 for a semester of teaching tuba.  Big bucks!  In October, when Tuba Guy refused to sign the oath, the college terminated him, offering him a check for $37.50 which he had earned up to the date of termination.  Mr. Gilmore returned the check, but requested reinstatement alleging that “the termination of my employment by the college deprives me of constitutional protections.”

The federal court agreed.  Key Quotes:

While there can be no compromise with subversion, concomitantly, there can be no fettering of the exploration in the realm of ideas. 

Suppression will not kill nefarious ideas, only exposure will.  Our nation can survive occasional falsehood.  Its permanence and vibrancy as a democracy demand that freedom which perchance permits the false to live for a day.  Attempted suppression sometimes fortifies the false with undeserved dignity. Silence is often more contemptuous of its falsity.

Oaths in support of the government are not abhorrent to the Constitution. Indeed, the Constitution provides one.  The vice of the oath condemned here is that it equates membership or association with non-allegiance.  A statute which automatically disqualifies applicants on the basis of membership alone ensnares the innocent with the guilty.

The case involved an interesting cast of characters.  The plaintiff was represented by Dave Richards of the ACLU, aka the husband of Ann Richards.  The opinion of the court was written by Judge Irving Goldberg, a Port Arthur native, graduate of UT and Harvard Law, appointed to the 5th Circuit by LBJ.  Also on the three-judge panel was Sarah Hughes, the federal judge who administered the oath of office to LBJ in a cramped airplane at Love Field on November 22, 1963.

Wow. History! The case is Gilmore v. James, decided by a three-judge panel of federal judges for the Northern District of Texas on January 15, 1968.  We found it at 274 F.Supp. 75. 

Thank you, Mr. Droll!!