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Novelist Quits Teaching at Phoenix College Over Loyalty Oath

PHOENIX — A crime novelist and poet quit his job teaching creative writing at Phoenix College because of a longstanding state requirement for public employees to sign a loyalty oath.

Former adjunct faculty member James Sallis said the oath is a violation of his privacy and civil rights, and asks him to violate the constitution, KPNX-TV reported.

Under Arizona law, state, county and local public employees can be fired if they refuse to sign an oath pledging loyalty to the state and country.

“I never imagined that things like this were still around,” Sallis said. “It horrified me.”

Sallis’ best-known novel, Drive, became a movie starring Ryan Gosling.

First Amendment attorney Dan Barr of Perkins Coie in Phoenix said the requirement is legal and has been around in various forms since before statehood.

Loyalty oaths were adopted by public agencies across the nation in the 1950s in what critics at the time called an unconstitutional attempt to weed out Communists. Arizona’s oath once barred membership in the Communist Party and has been successfully challenged in court. It was rewritten in 2003.

“Amazingly enough, yes, they can make him sign that oath,” Barr said.

But, he said, it doesn’t make much sense when everyone employed by the state, including janitors, takes the oath.

About 800 adjunct faculty members were asked to sign the pledge ahead of the school’s accreditation renewal next year, the school said. If students don’t agree with the requirement, they can contact state legislators or Secretary of State Michele Reagan, said the school’s interim president, Chris Haines.

“We must abide by the law,” Haines said.

Student Patricia Rudnyk signed up for Sallis’ class several times and said she doesn’t believe he can be replaced.

“We fought for these rights,” she said. “Don’t just sign them away.”

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