Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Re: Empty USCCB Amicus Brief in Public-Sector Union Dues Case

As I stated in the third point in my initial post, the USCCB amicus brief in Janus v. AFSCME invites the dangerous misperception that it considers right-to-work laws in the public sector to violate Catholic social teaching as severely as laws imposing abortion and same-sex marriage do.

Indeed, the Religion News Service reported that the “bishops equated the effect of a ruling against the unions to the landmark high court decisions, Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges.” (Emphasis added.) [Following an exchange with the reporter, I have altered the preceding sentence and the transition in the next.]

Lefty religion professor Mark Silk asserts that the “bishops’ most striking argument is based on their unhappiness” with Roe and Obergefell and declares, “Now there’s an argument for the conservatives on the Court to reckon with.” But as I pointed out in my first post, the USCCB brief does not actually make any legal argument and is instead nothing more than special pleading. So no one on the Court should have any difficulty dismissing the USCCB’s plea.

In his piece, Silk manages to get just about everything backwards. He suggests, for example, that a priest awakening from a 20-year nap wouldn’t be surprised that the USCCB is backing public-sector unions. But (per point 2 in my first post) only someone who has been in a long and deep slumber would assume that Catholic teaching against the exploitation of labor by capital would call for the bishops to support public-sector unions, which operate against fundamental Catholic causes and at the expense of working men and women in the private sector.

Silk also cites the USCCB brief for the proposition that (in his words) “there’s a long-standing exemption for any employee whose religious beliefs keep her from joining a union.” But he grossly misstates things. The federal exemption that the USCCB brief cites and quotes protects only employees who are members of a religion that “has historically held conscientious objections to joining or financially supporting labor organizations.” That’s no help to a Catholic employee who has religious objections to joining a union because it supports abortion. The Illinois law that the USCCB brief cites seems similarly restrictive and would also require the exempt employee to redirect the fee amount to a charity approved by the union.

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