Loyalty Oaths: Protected Speech
Second, courts have agreed that loyalty oaths may not prevent or chill protected speech. In Keyishian v. Board of Regents (1967), a New York state loyalty oath law included a provision through which educators within the state would be removed from their positions if they participated in subversive activities. Pursuant to an internal memo to state employees, examples of subversive activities included “writing of articles, the distribution of pamphlets, the endorsement of speeches made or articles written or acts performed by others” (Keyishian, p. 602), whether inside or outside the classroom.
Insofar as these acts of speech and expression are protected for common citizens under the First Amendment, as well as within legitimate educational and scholarly applications under constitutional interpretations of academic freedom, the loyalty oath and its administrative policies classified protected speech as prohibited acts. Consequently, the Supreme Court struck the loyalty oaths down as impermissible under the Constitution.