Jehovah’s Witness files First Amendment challenge to loyalty oath

Thursday, December 23, 1999

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A Jehovah’s Witness who lost her federal job at the Fort Belvoir Commissary for refusing to sign a loyalty oath has filed a lawsuit saying the oath violates her religious and free-speech rights.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on behalf of Michelle Hall alleges the oath, required of nearly all of the 1.8 million permanent federal employees, is unconstitutional.

The defendants are the Office of Personnel Management and the Defense Commissary Agency.

Hall, 36, was willing to subscribe to most of the oath, including promising to “support and defend” the Constitution. But she objected to a clause that says, “I will bear true faith and allegiance to” the Constitution, according to the 11-page complaint filed on Dec. 17.

Hall believes those words “would contradict her undivided allegiance and faithfulness to Jehovah,” the suit said.

Rebecca Glenberg, legal director of the state ACLU, says Hall has offered to sign an affidavit that omits “faith and allegiance” and instead promises not to “violate” or “undermine” any laws or the Constitution and not to seek to overthrow the government.

OPM officials says the agency does not have the legal authority to change the oath, which is spelled out in the federal code. A spokesman for the commissary agency declined comment, saying officials have not received a copy of the suit.

Hall had worked as a temporary employee at the suburban Washington commissary since 1990 and was offered a permanent job in May. But when she declined to sign the oath, her superiors gave her a choice of resigning or being fired.

Glenberg says Hall now works at a grocery store.