- Associated Press - Friday, August 14, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska warned a local school district on Friday to stop requiring its employees to pledge that they will teach students to love the United States.

The group said it sent the letter to Hastings Public Schools after receiving complaints from employees about a “loyalty oath.”

The 1951 state law was passed during a time known as the Second Red Scare, when Republican U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin went on a mission to uncover communists that he claimed were hiding in American society.

Even though the law is still on the books, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that employees cannot be required to sign a pledge or oath, said ACLU of Nebraska legal director Amy Miller. Miller warned that the district could face a civil rights lawsuit if it attempts to enforce the law.

“The employees we’ve spoken to love their jobs,” Miller said in the letter. “But they have deeply held beliefs that do not permit them to sign an outdated McCarthy era pledge. I am sure that your office wants to support valuable employees and not force them to choose between their jobs and their principles.”

Hastings Schools Superintendent Craig Kautz said the district’s attorney advised school officials that there are two loyalty statutes in state law, and the one they are following is still legally valid. Kautz said Nebraska lawmakers should review the law and decide whether to keep it on the books.

“We’re not trying to violate anyone’s constitutional rights,” Kautz said. “As a public school, we can’t selectively decide what laws we abide by and which ones we don’t. I just hope we don’t get dragged into something that’s above our level.”

The law cited by the ACLU of Nebraska requires all public school teachers to “pledge” that they will instill students with an understanding of the U.S. and Nebraska Constitution, a knowledge and history of the nation and the sacrifices made to achieve its “present greatness,” a love and devotion to the polices that made America the “finest country in the world in which to live,” and opposition to all groups and activities that would destroy the present form of government.

The second law on Nebraska’s books mandates an “oath” that requires public servants to disavow any ties to political parties that advocate the violent overthrow of the government.

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