Stoneboro councilman Gerald Massey says an order by the state’s top lawman to stop enforcing Pennsylvania’s McCarthy-era requirement that elected officials take up a loyalty oath is another case of history repeating itself.

Massey, 72, is a philosophy professor at the University of Pittsburgh who “unfortunately won” a seat on Stoneboro council last year in a write-in campaign.

He refused to sign a loyalty oath required by a 1951 state law to pledge he wasn’t a “subversive” enemy of the state.

The law, passed at the height of Sen. Joe McCarthy’s hearings into suspected Communist infiltration of the federal government, describes as subversive anyone who advocates or takes part in “any act intended to overthrow, destroy (or) alter” the government. It also says “advocacy” of “violence or force” is a prerequisite to being a subversive.

Fifty-five years later, the law remains on the books, something Massey said is lamentable.

“We have a cowardly, lazy legislature that won’t do anything to remove these laws from the books,” he said.

A similar law in Indiana as declared unconstitutional in 1974 and in 1975, then-Pa. Attorney General Robert P. Kane issued an opinion that it was unconstitutional to administer the oath to state employees. He didn’t address the provision that applied to political candidates.

Attorney General Tom Corbett has told officials to stop enforcing the requirement, but it will remain on the books unless the General Assembly repeals it.

Massey said he’s written letters to Mercer County’s Harrisburg delegation, to no avail.

“Only (State Rep. Rod) Wilt had the courtesy to reply,” Massey said. “He effectively said that in the present political climate, to oppose loyalty legislation was risky politically.”

Official response to the issue has troubled Massey, who said times haven’t changed.

McCarthyism was “an era of fear,” he said, much like the current age of terrorism.

“Then it was the Red scare, the Commies, now it’s so-called terrorists,” he said. “The same thing is being done now. If you question (the government), you’re unpatriotic, you’re aiding and abetting the enemy.”

It’s part of the “politics of fear” used by some officials to “manipulate the country and the people,” he said.

He used the initial White House-led vilification of U.S. Rep. John Murtha after he came out against the war in Iraq as a prime example that times haven’t changed.

“(Vice President Dick) Cheney is referring to this guy (Murtha) as a traitor,” Massey said.

John Staggs, Philadelpia area meatpacker who is running for a seat in the state house in November, and the Socialist Worker candidate for mayor of Pittsburgh, Jay M. Ressler, also refused to sign the oath.

Corbett referred to Kane’s opinion and applied the reasoning to candidates last month. On July 25, he directed officials to “discontinue the oath unless and until” the Supreme Court decision is overturned.

Other states, including California, Kansas, Illinois and Arkansas, have similar laws requiring loyalty oaths.

“Nobody really pays any attention to them,” said Richard Winger, editor and publisher of Ballot Access News, which tracks election law nationwide.

It’s time someone does, Massey said.

“(Loyalty oaths) go against the Constitution of the United States,” he said. “I know what repressive governments do with laws like that. This is a time when people concerned about civil liberties and individual rights need to pay attention.”



The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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