UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
November 9, 1971
Sari Knopp BIKLEN, Plaintiff,
BOARD OF EDUCATION, CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, SYRACUSE, NEW YORK, et al., Defendants
Mulligan, Circuit Judge, Foley, Chief District Judge, and Port, District Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: MULLIGAN
MULLIGAN, Circuit Judge:
Section 3002 of the New York Education Law, McKinney's Consol. Laws, c. 16, requires any United States citizen who serves as a "teacher, instructor or professor in any school or institution in the public school system of the state or in any school, college, university or other educational institution in [the] state, whose real property, in whole or in part, is exempt from taxation * * *" to take an oath or make an affirmation to support the federal and state constitutions and to perform his duties as a teacher to the best of his ability. In lieu of this oath or affirmation, the teacher may "pledge and declare" to the same effect.
The following facts are stipulated: In July, 1970 plaintiff, Sari Knopp Biklen, was accepted for appointment as a probationary teacher-intermediate at the Martin Luther King, Jr. School in Syracuse, New York. She started to teach in September, and in December she was notified that among the items missing from her personnel folder was the requisite support oath or affirmation. On December 17, plaintiff was suspended from her position when she informed the Director of Personnel of the City School District that her religious and conscientious beliefs prevented her from signing the required oath or affirmation. On December 21, she spoke with the Superintendent of Schools who advised her that that she would be permanently dismissed if the oath or affirmation was not signed by the end of the forthcoming Christmas vacation. On December 30, she notified the Superintendent that she would not sign the oath or affirmation because of her religious and conscientious scruples. He informed her that she would be permanently dismissed on January 19, 1971. By letter dated January 15, 1971, the Superintendent advised Biklen that she could "pledge and declare" and in so doing could continue in her position with no loss of pay. This, plaintiff declined to do. She appeared at a public meeting of the Board of Education held on January 19 and fully explained her position. After listening to her reasons the Board unanimously voted that she be discharged.
Counsel have further stipulated that the plaintiff was dismissed from her position solely because she declined to take the prescribed oath or affirmation and that this refusal "is based upon her most deeply held religious beliefs and that those beliefs stem from and are part of her Quaker religion."
Plaintiff commenced this action for injunctive and declaratory relief, challenging the constitutionality of § 3002 of the Education Law, alleging jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343(3) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. A three judge district court was convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2281 and 2284.
The reasons why plaintiff objects to swearing or affirming are set forth in her personal statement which is attached as an exhibit to the complaint.
An examination of her statement reveals that her objections are obviously not only religious but secular as well. There has been historically staunch Quaker opposition to oath taking which has been voiced since George Fox himself refused to take the oath of allegiance in 1663.
The resistance of Quakers and other religious sects to swearing is the basis for the alternative of affirmation explicitly sanctioned in both the federal and state constitutions and in the statute involved herein.
There is no question that the plaintiff was afforded the opportunity in this case to make the affirmation which presumably would not be objectionable to the average Quaker conscience. However, it is clearly inappropriate to ruminate about the mixed socio-political, philosophical or personal objections of the plaintiff. She has stated that it is offensive to her religious convictions and that it may also offend her in other ways is not our concern.
Neither are we concerned about her Quaker orthodoxy. It has been in fact stipulated and properly that her sincere religious conviction precludes affirmations as well as oaths and we should not and cannot avoid the issue by finding that her views on this subject are not shared by any, some, or all of her coreligionists.
With all respect for Sari Knopp Biklen's sincerity and conscientious conviction, we hold that her complaint must be dismissed. The constitutionality of this support oath has been repeatedly sustained by the Supreme Court of the United States against first amendment attacks by public school teachers. The first of these cases was Knight v. Board of Regents, 269 F. Supp. 339 (S.D.N.Y. 1967), aff'd per curiam, 390 U.S. 36, 88 S. Ct. 816, 19 L.E. 2d 812 (1968), where this same statutory oath was sustained against a first amendment attack on free speech and association grounds. Rather than intimidation, plaintiff strangely finds encouragement in the opinion of Judge Tyler in the Souther District Court. In the Knight case, as in this, the plaintiff placed great reliance on West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 63 S. Ct. 1178, 87 L. Ed. 1628 (1943), where the court held unconstitutional a state statute requiring school children to salute and pledge allegiance daily to the flag of the United States. The Knight court properly observed that the pledge of allegiance in Barnette was far more elaborate than the affirmation required there
and that the threatened criminal penalties were not at all comparable to the only sanction imposed, the loss of a teaching post.
The court also observed that no claim of religious freedom was made in the case before it as a further reason for finding Barnette inapposite. To suggest that the court would have decided differently had a religious claim been made, overlooks the two other major distinctions which the court carefully advanced in finding Barnette inapposite. The court's conclusion in Knight is pertinent here:
"A state does not interfere with its teachers by requiring them to support the governmental systems which shelter and nourish the institutions in which they teach, nor does it restrict its teachers by encouraging them to uphold the highest standards of their chosen profession. Indeed, it is plain that a state has a clear interest in assuring '* * * careful and discriminating selection of teachers' by its publicly supported educational institutions. See Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479, at 495-496, 81 S. Ct. 247, at 256, 5 L. Ed. 2d 231 (1960), (dissenting opinion of Frankfurter, J.), see also majority opinion at 485, 81 S. Ct. at 250."
269 F. Supp. at 341-342.
The same support oath at issue here has also been tested by teachers in Colorado and Florida who claimed invasion of free speech and free association rights together with denials of due process and equal protection guarantees. In all of these cases the Supreme Court has affirmed the constitutionality of the oath. Hosack v. Smiley, 276 F. Supp. 876 (D. Colo. 1967), aff'd per curiam, 390 U.S. 744, 88 S. Ct. 1442, 20 L. Ed. 2d 275 (1968); Ohlson v. Phillips, 304 F. Supp. 1152 (D. Colo. 1969), aff'd per curiam, 397 U.S. 317, 90 S. Ct. 1124, 25 L. Ed. 2d 337 (1970) and Connell v. Higginbotham, 305 F. Supp. 445 (M.D. Fla. 1969), aff'd per curiam (on this issue), 403 U.S. 207, 91 S. Ct. 1772, 29 L. Ed. 2d 418 (1971).
While the attack in none of these cases has been bottomed on free exercise of religion grounds, it would appear clear that the oath is invulnerable to any attack on first amendment grounds. The Supreme Court has consistently held that the first amendment freedoms are closely intertwined. "This conjunction of liberties is not peculiar to religious activity and institutions alone. The First Amendment gives freedom of mind the same security as freedom of conscience." Thomas v. Collins, 323 U.S. 516, 531, 65 S. Ct. 315, 323, 89 L. Ed. 430 (1945). See also Baird v. State Bar of Arizona, 401 U.S. 1, 6, 91 S. Ct. 702, 27 L. Ed. 2d 639 (1971); Schneider v. Smith, 390 U.S. 17, 25, 88 S. Ct. 682, 19 L. Ed. 2d 799 (1968).
The support oath in issue here is uniquely constitutional since it is mandated by the United States Constitution itself. Article VI, cl. 3.
This is the last clause of the Constitution and has historical significance as part of the supremacy doctrine. In Ableman v. Booth, 62 U.S. (21 How.) 506, 524-525, 16 L. Ed. 169 (1859), Chief Justice Taney stated:
"The Constitution of the United States with all the powers conferred by it on the General Government, and surrendered by the States, was the voluntary act of the people of the several States, deliberately done, for their own protection and safety against injustice from one another. And their anxiety to preserve it in full force, in all its powers, and to guard against resistance to or evasion of its authority, on the part of a State, is proved by the clause which requires that the members of the State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers of the several States, (as well as those of the General Government,) shall be bound, by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution. This is the last and closing clause of the Constitution, and inserted when the whole frame of Government, with the powers hereinbefore specified, had been adopted by the Convention; and it was in that form, and with these powers, that the Constitution was submitted to the people of the several States, for their consideration and decisions."
"Now, it certainly can be no humiliation to the citizen of a republic to yield a ready obedience to the laws as administered by the constituted authorities. On the contrary, it is among his first and highest duties as a citizen, because free government cannot exist without it."
It should also be emphasized that the last sentence of Article VI, cl. 3 specifically provides "but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." There is no doubt that the free exercise of religion was in the framers' minds at this point -- the oath was mandated but religious tests were proscribed.
The support oath's constitutionality has been repeatedly asserted. The most recent examination of the constitutionality of "oath taking" by the Supreme Court involved the attack by bar applicants in New York who objected on grounds of free speech and the right of political association, to answering the question in the application for admission "Can you conscientiously, and do you affirm that you are without mental reservation, loyal to and ready to support the Constitution of the United States?" The constitutionality of this affirmation was upheld by a divided court.
It is significant that the support oath or affirmation which was also required by the State of New York for members of the legal profession, was not attacked in that case and its constitutionality was adverted to repeatedly in the opinions. Writing for the majority, Mr. Justice Stewart said about the support oath "[There] can be no doubt of its validity."
Mr. Justice Black, in dissenting, said "I have no doubt whatsoever about the validity."
Mr. Justice Marshall, dissenting, said "The validity of the support oath is sui generis."
In the three judge court case below, Chief Judge Friendly said "The constitutionality of this oath is established by Knight v. Board of Regents * * *."
Mr. Chief Justice Vinson, writing for the Court in American Communications Ass'n v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382, 415, 70 S. Ct. 674, 692, 94 L. Ed. 925 (1950), stated:
"Clearly the Constitution permits the requirement of oaths by officeholders to uphold the Constitution itself. The obvious implication is that those unwilling to take such an oath are to be barred from public office. For the President, a specific oath was set forth in the Constitution itself. Art. II, § 1. And Congress has detailed an oath for other federal officers. Obviously, the Framers of the Constitution thought that the exaction of an affirmation of minimal loyalty to the Government was worth the price of whatever deprivation of individual freedom of conscience was involved." (footnote omitted)
The argument that there is a conflict between the constitutional oath and the first amendment was again dispelled by the Supreme Court in Bond v. Floyd, 385 U.S. 116, 132, 87 S. Ct. 339, 347, 17 L. Ed. 2d 235 (1966).
The constitutionality of the constitutional oath, we find, is amply established by authority and it is immune from a first amendment attack.
We must next approach the question whether the state has a compelling interest in requiring plaintiff Biklen to make an affirmation that is antithetic to her personal beliefs. In re Jenison, 375 U.S. 14, 84 S. Ct. 63, 11 L. Ed. 2d 39, on remand, 267 Minn. 136, 125 N.W. 2d 588 (1963); Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 83 S. Ct. 1790, 10 L. Ed. 2d 965 (1963). The Supreme Court has consistently held that the religious freedom guarantee embraces "freedom to believe and freedom to act. The first is absolute but, in the nature of things, the second cannot be" Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303-304, 60 S. Ct. 900, 903, 84 L. Ed. 1213 (1940). The extent to which one may act upon the dictates of his conscience is necessarily circumscribed by the serious needs of society. Yet, freedom of religion is a fundamental liberty and only a compelling societal interest can justify a state's intrusions upon one's religiously motivated activities. It is thus necessary to balance the governmental interests against the right invaded. Linscott v. Millers Falls Co., 440 F.2d 14, 17 (1st Cir. 1971). Thus the state's paramount interest in industrial peace justifies the discharge of an employee whose religious beliefs forbid his joining a union shop, Linscott v. Millers Falls Co., supra ; Gray v. Gulf, Mobile & Ohio R.R., 429 F.2d 1064 (5th Cir. 1970), cert. denied, 400 U.S. 1001, 91 S. Ct. 461, 27 L. Ed. 2d 451 (1971); and similarly an employer must deal with his employees' union despite his religious convictions, Cap Santa Vue, Inc. v. NLRB, 137 U.S. App. D.C. 395, 424 F.2d 883 (1970). That the state has a compelling interest in assuring the fitness and dedication of its teachers is a self-evident proposition.
Acordingly, it may demand that those aspiring to labor in the sensitive area of the classroom be willing to affirm their support of its government systems. This affirmation does not inquire into one's present beliefs, political or religious. It is merely promissory.
Likewise, the state, like any employer, has the right (and the obligation) to require that its employees give assurance of their willingness to perform their duties to the best of their ability.
The suggestion of counsel in the briefs submitted on her behalf and on argument that the reasonable alternative for the state here is to test plaintiff's fealty to the Constitution and her dedication, by her performance in class, is surprising. It would require a constant intrusion upon her privacy and a surveillance of her political orthodoxy which is far more repugnant and odious than the present affirmation.
Here plaintiff's beliefs are sacrosanct -- she is not being denied a teaching position in the public schools qua Quaker, orthodox or not. She is being denied because she refuses to affirm her support of the Constitutions of the United States and the State of New York or even that she will do her best as a teacher. The state has a demonstrable and compelling interest that she at least do this.
Plaintiff also alleges a denial of her right to due process of law under the fourteenth amendment since she was not afforded a full hearing with counsel by the School Board prior to her discharge. Plaintiff was specifically advised of the decision of the Board that she was not to be retained unless she made the oath or affirmation. She had adequate opportunity to assess her position and to change her decision. Plaintiff's reasons for not taking the oath were irrelevant to the School Board; the clear wording of section 3002 left no room for discretion. A formal hearing would have been a meaningless gesture. See Hosack v. Smiley, 276 F. Supp. 876, 881 (D. Colo. 1967), aff'd per curiam, 390 U.S. 744, 88 S. Ct. 1442, 20 L. Ed. 2d 275 (1968); Ohlson v. Phillips, 304 F. Supp. 1152, 1155, aff'd per curiam, 397 U.S. 317, 90 S. Ct. 1124, 25 L. Ed. 2d 337 (1970).