When I was elected to the office of Inyo County Clerk-Recorder, my first official act was to take an Oath of Office. Not only have I taken the Oath, but one of my responsibilities as a County Clerk is to administer Oaths of Office to other public employees and elected officials.
All public servants, from the President of the United States, to the part-time file clerk, take the Oath in one form or another before assuming office. In California, the Oath includes the affirmation that we will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California, against all enemies, foreign and domestic. By swearing to defend the Constitutions against domestic enemies, we are promising to administer the laws as decided by the body politic and not to undermine our system of governance by acting under our own sovereignty.
Lately we have seen a number of examples of officials unilaterally making decisions, contrary to the rule of law, based on their personal beliefs and aspirations. People must always seek to live by their values, but every public official makes a promise, before they ever take office, not to be a sovereign.
So when President Obama makes treaties with foreign nations without first getting the requisite approval from Congress, when the San Francisco City Council members vote to thwart federal immigration laws, when the Rowan County Clerk refuses to recognize judicial authority, or when Governor Jerry Brown runs end games around the legislative process to achieve his policy agendas, are we upholding our promise to the people?
The act of declaring allegiance to our system of government has been carried forward from the first colonial compact to modern day. In the beginning, the new immigrants swore their loyalty to King James, but today we do not have Kings in the United States. Instead we swear to support Constitutions, which replaced the Monarchy as our supreme law of the land.
One thing has been constant since the establishment of the United States –we do not always agree on how we should be governed. In fact, our country was founded on the principals of debate and compromise, which depend on our officials having opposing viewpoints.
When we take the Oath, we are not swearing that we agree with every regulation that exists at the time we take it, nor are we promising that we will personally approve of every governing decision that may come to pass in the future. Instead we are swearing allegiance to the rule of law and the civil society that governs us. As society changes over time, legislation will be amended, repealed, passed and tested against our Constitutions. Our multi-layered system of government is designed to entrust individuals at every level to preserve this system for society as a whole.
Nothing would suggest that upon taking the Oath, you must give up your constitutional First Amendment rights to have personal opinions contrary to our laws. An individual is free to believe however they choose – a right ardently defended and upheld by multiple institutions. However, when it comes to public servitude, there has always been a higher standard to which our representatives must strive; to hold the public’s interests above our own. This means that not only do we expect the average citizen to obey the law, but also the lawmakers.
Oaths have withstood the test of time dating back to ancient Rome, and from the day George Washington placed his hand on the Bible and recited the Oath, this promise to stand vigilant by doing our duty, even in the face of our personal beliefs, has been an important symbol of this country’s endurance and longevity.
And when we consider the ideals and ambitions with which this nation was born and the sacrifices it has endured, we should have confidence that this is a political organization that is worthy of our support and defense.
Elected and public officials have been entrusted with a legacy of our nation’s commitment to the Constitution and the liberty and freedom it gives all citizens.
Our Republic is one of the longest standing in world history because of our dedication and commitment to the Constitutional form of governance. We should not take this role lightly but with strength of purpose, love for our nation, and deep respect for the rule of law that gives it authority.