On December 6, 2018, I took an oath: “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter.”
The oath of office for elected officials was established by the First Congress (1789-1791). The construct of the oath has changed several times since then, with the current frame unchanged since 1966. The oath is usually taken on the first day in office. It wasn’t until the 80th Congress (1947-1949) that an oath had to be signed. The application of the oath has expanded to include elected officials at all levels, as well as government employees in specified roles such as police officers and firefighters.
Why is it necessary to take an oath? Public servants are servants of the people—We, The People. In a Constitutional Republic the people are the sovereign, not the elected officials and not even the President of the United States. In taking the oath, an official swears to support and defend the Constitution against enemies, swears allegiance to the Constitution, and promises to do his or her job well. The allegiance that is spoken of in the oath is not to a person or an agency; it is to the Constitution—the source of direction for all actions. Therefore, elected officials are accountable to the people, rather than to a person, an agency, or other politicians.
What is in the Constitution that is so worthy of defending, so much so that it justifies an oath of office to document it? Is it the seven Articles? The First Amendment (freedom of religion, speech, the press, the right to peaceably assemble, and the right to petition the Government)? The other 26 Amendments? The answer is Yes. Collectively, the Constitution is what describes our rights and provides protections for liberty and justice. Elected officials cannot give and must not take liberty; instead they are charged to secure it.
As an elected official for the Conejo Recreation and Park District, why is this important to me? First, in being required to take the oath, I realized that if I had sworn to support and defend the Constitution, I needed to know more about it. Consequently, I not only read through it, I studied it, and took several online courses to learn more about it, as well as the Founders’ reasons for creating and defending it.
I have come to realize that even as a locally elected official, my primary allegiance is to the Constitution, rather than the Conejo Recreation and Park District. This was an eye-opener for me. My greatest desire is to do the best job that I can and serve the people of the Conejo Valley. However, I hadn’t initially, fully understood the order of my responsibility in serving: first the people, second the Constitution, and third the Park District.
I am trying my best to do the job I should as a Conejo Recreation and Park District Director. However, I would sincerely appreciate it if those of you in the community would also read and study the Constitution, because it is your duty to keep me, and all elected officials, accountable to the people. If and when you can, please make an effort to attend Board meetings as well to provide us with your comments and concerns.
Founder John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, wisely advised, “Every member of the State ought diligently to read and to study the constitution of his country…By knowing their rights, they will sooner perceive when they are violated and be the better prepared to defend and assert them.”
Doug Nickles is a Director for the Conejo Recreation and Park District and Board Member for the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency. The views expressed are his and do not necessarily reflect those of the District, Agency or the respective Boards. He can be contacted via email at email@example.com.