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Today’s ‘Diversity’ Oaths Resemble 1950s ‘Loyalty’ Oaths


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Real Clear Politics

Charles Lipson

May 12 2022

It is rare to meet someone with true moral courage, someone who risks everything to do what he knows is right. I was privileged to know such a man, George Anastaplo. His story, set during the Red Scare of the 1950s, needs to be told because it applies today, when political zealots again demand rigid conformity.

George, a boy from rural Illinois, refused to bow down to the most powerful lawyers in his home state. He knew their demands were wrong, even though he could have easily and truthfully said “yes” to their substance. He refused solely because he thought asking him violated basic guarantees in the U.S. Constitution.

The time was the early 1950s, and the demands came from ideological crusaders on the right, who insisted on anti-communist loyalty oaths. Today’s crusaders come from the left, demanding pledges of support for “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” (DEI). More on today’s ideological frenzy in a moment, but first, George’s story.

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By Charles Lipson - RCP Contributor
May 12, 2022
AP Photo/Herbert K. White

It is rare to meet someone with true moral courage, someone who risks everything to do what he knows is right. I was privileged to know such a man, George Anastaplo. His story, set during the Red Scare of the 1950s, needs to be told because it applies today, when political zealots again demand rigid conformity.

George, a boy from rural Illinois, refused to bow down to the most powerful lawyers in his home state. He knew their demands were wrong, even though he could have easily and truthfully said “yes” to their substance. He refused solely because he thought asking him violated basic guarantees in the U.S. Constitution.

The time was the early 1950s, and the demands came from ideological crusaders on the right, who insisted on anti-communist loyalty oaths. Today’s crusaders come from the left, demanding pledges of support for “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” (DEI). More on today’s ideological frenzy in a moment, but first, George’s story.

Born in downstate Illinois, the son of Greek immigrants, George’s most formative experience was serving in World War II, where he was a navigator on B-17 and B-29 bombers. In the service, he told me, he met soldiers with backgrounds and life experiences far different from anyone he had known growing up. For someone as bright and curious as George, that experience opened up a wider world.

After the war, George moved to the big city and went to the University of Chicago, where he earned his undergraduate and law degree (top of his class, 1951). He passed the bar exam and had only one more step before pursuing his chosen profession. Like all applicants, he had to answer a few questions from the Illinois State Bar Association.

 

The examination began with some standard questions about communism. Those should have been easy since George abhorred Marxism. Still, George’s answers, focused on civil liberties, were not what the bar association wanted to hear. First, he noted that dissent and even revolution were integral features of America’s constitutional history. Then, the hapless members asked George the big question: “Are you now or have you ever been … ?”

George Anastaplo refused to answer. He could have truthfully said, “No.” End of story. He could have noted that his parents’ homeland was fighting a brutal civil war to prevent communists from seizing control. He could have done all that, but he refused. His three-fold reply was that (1) the Constitution guaranteed freedom of association; (2) it was not illegal to belong to the Communist Party; and, most important, (3) it was totally improper for the Illinois Bar Association to ask him that question – or any question about an applicant’s political affiliation. His application to practice law was promptly denied.

So, George and the Illinois Bar Association then did what all good American attorneys do: they sued each other. The constitutional challenge, in which George represented himself, took a full decade to reach the Supreme Court. It was the only case George ever argued, and he lost it despite a powerful dissent from Justice Hugo Black.

“Too many men are being driven to become government-fearing and time-serving because the Government is being permitted to strike out at those who are fearless enough to think as they please and say what they think,” Justice Black wrote. “This trend must be halted if we are to keep faith with the Founders of our Nation and pass on to future generations of Americans the great heritage of freedom which they sacrificed so much to leave to us.”

 

George also received strong support from Leo Strauss, the great political philosopher and a seminal figure in conservative thought. He congratulated George for his “brave and just action” and added, “If the American Bench and Bar have any sense of shame, they must come on their knees to apologize to you." Of course, they never did.

George was never admitted to the bar. Instead, he taught political philosophy for six decades, wrote multiple books on political thought and civil liberties, eventually teaching at Loyola University’s law school. He was also our neighborhood Socrates, walking the streets of Hyde Park (near the University of Chicago) into his mid-80s, meeting friends and engaging in the kind of rigorous conversations recounted in Plato’s Dialogues.

Why does George Anastaplo’s moral courage matter for us today? Because we are enduring another age of ideological zealotry, coupled with demands to “sign or resign.” Or never be hired in the first place.

Today’s clearest analogy to anti-communist oaths are those demanding adherence to statements of “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” The crucial point here is not the specific content of DEI statements. You might agree or disagree with them. The crucial point is that it is improper to make these demands for political conformity.

Such demands are, unfortunately, commonplace on university campuses. So are the bureaucracies that enforce them. Those demands and those bureaucracies are antithetical to the basic mission of a university, where freedom of expression and diversity of viewpoint should be core values, vigorously protected.

 

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