My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
The United States Supreme Court on June 27 decided that public sector employees can no longer be required to pay mandatory fees to support unions to which they do not wish to belong. This landmark case, Janus v. AFSCME, involved Mark Janus, a child support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services in Springfield, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a public-sector union. Janus refused to join the union because he opposes many of its positions, including those taken in collective bargaining. Despite his opposition, for years the union extracted fees from his salary as authorized by state law. The union had argued that these fees were collected from every state worker to pay their “fair share” for collective bargaining and other work the union does on behalf of all employees in the workplace and claimed that those who would refuse to pay their “fair share” are “free riders” who gain the benefits of collective bargaining without paying for it. The Supreme Court rejected this argument, holding that the State’s extraction of agency fees from nonconsenting public-sector employees violates the First Amendment guarantees of free speech.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito explained, “Petitioner [Janus] strenuously objects to this free-rider label. He argues that he is not a free rider on a bus headed for a destination that he wishes to reach but is more like a person shanghaied for an unwanted voyage.” Janus’ attorney argued in court that Illinois was violating the workers’ free speech rights by compelling them to subsidize organizations whose political activities they might oppose. The Supreme Court agreed with that argument.
When the case reached the Supreme Court, the General Counsel for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Anthony Picarello, filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief, known by its name in Latin as an amicus curiae brief, in support of the union. When the case was decided against the union, Bishop Frank Dewane, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, expressed his disappointment with the Supreme Court’s decision, citing “the long-held view of so many bishops” in support of unions. I respectfully disagree. Let me explain why.
The “long-held view of so many bishops” in support of unions is generally understood to go back to the time of Pope Leo XIII, who issued an encyclical letter in 1891 on the rights and duties of capital and labor entitled, Rerum novarum. While this encyclical voiced strong support for the rights of workers, particularly their right to form unions, this support was never unconditional. Rather, Pope Leo wrote (in paragraph 57) that unions “must pay special and chief attention to the duties of religion and morality, and that social betterment should have this chiefly in view; otherwise they would lose wholly their special character, and end by becoming little better than those societies which take no account whatever of religion. What advantage can it be to a working man to obtain by means of a society material well-being, if he endangers his soul for lack of spiritual food? ‘What doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?’ (Matthew 16:26).”
In this regard, then, unions should not expect the unquestioning support of the church when their objectives are contrary “to the duties of religion and morality.” Today, a number of unions actively promote abortion rights. Three of the nation’s biggest unions— including AFSCME — contributed $435,000 to the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, in 2014.
As a matter of policy, the delegates to the AFSCME International Convention, meeting in Chicago in 2014, complained that “health care laws have restricted the places where abortions can be performed” and voted to “oppose legislation that restricts a woman’s basic right to health care and reproductive rights,” by which they mean, of course, abortion. Forcing public employees to subsidize unions that promote such immoral policies and activities is just not right.
It is encouraging that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFCSME upholds the right to be free from coercion in speech. As Pope St. John Paul II said, “God’s law does not reduce, much less do away with human freedom; rather, it protects and promotes that freedom” (Veritatis splendor, n. 35). No longer will public sector employees be required to pay mandatory dues to support unions that promote abortion and other political issues with which they disagree.
May God give us this grace. Amen.