Catholic social teaching and the Janus v. AFSCME case
Religion & Liberty Online

Catholic social teaching and the Janus v. AFSCME case

The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments this morning in an important case involving free speech and public unions.

Mark Janus is a child support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services and the plaintiff in the case of Janus v. AFSCME. Janus doesn’t want to be a part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, but he’s legally required to pay a fee to cover the cost of representing him.

“I’m definitely not anti-union. Unions have their place and many people like them,” Janus told the Washington Free Beacon. “I was never given a choice. I really didn’t see that I was getting any benefit [from union membership]. I just don’t think I should be forced to pay a group for an association I don’t agree with—that goes to the First Amendment.”

The case could overturn a forty-year-old precedent first set in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that allows government agencies to mandate union dues or agency fees as a condition of employment.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) submitted an amicus brief in the case on behalf of the union. The USCCB opposes “right-to-work” laws and cites Catholic social teaching in opposing Janus’s petition.

Michael Moreland, a professor of law and religion at Villanova University, supports Catholic social teaching but argues that the USCCB brief is mistaken, misleading, and irrelevant:

Suffice to say that nothing in the USCCB brief or in the commentary about it causes me to change my views. It’s worth emphasizing that Janus is about a narrow if important bit of constitutional doctrine concerning compelled subsidies and speech in the public employment sector. The USCCB brief and commentary supporting it mistakenly, in my view, kick up a host of misleading (because usually failing to note the important distinction between the public and private sectors) and irrelevant (because not engaging the legal questions and the reasoning—or lack thereof—in Abood) issues about right to work laws, civil society, intermediate institutions, Bowling Alone, and so forth.

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Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).