A Mandate Against Liberty and Conscience — And The Bishops Are On the Wrong Side?

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2018/02/28/a-mandate-against-liberty-and-conscience-and-the-bishops-are-on-the-wrong-side/

The Catholic bishops of the United States have spent the better part of the past decade heroically fighting against government mandates that undermine religious freedom and personal conscience.

After investing so much effort resisting such mandates, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has found a mandate to support. That mandate forces government workers to pay for the activities of big labor, even when individual workers conscientiously object to union membership or to funding union activity. It’s similar to taxes or Social Security contributions:  Every person is forced to pay up as a price of government employment.

As the subject of oral argument this past Monday, the issue before the United States Supreme Court is narrowly tailored to cover only government sector workplaces; private sector workplaces will remain untouched by the court decision, no matter what it is. In the case of Janus v. AFSCME, the court must decide whether Illinois state worker Mark Janus has a First Amendment right to opt out of funding the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Workers, a labor behemoth with 3,400 Locals across the nation. A classic “David and Goliath” confrontation, Janus is one man taking on the twin giants of big labor and big government. 

Unions and their powerful government allies contend that the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services worker must pay union dues or a so-called “agency fee” as a condition of his employment. “Agency fee” amounts to little more than a euphemism for coercing non-union workers to pay tribute to high-salaried union bosses, with supposed assurances that those funds won’t be redirected to political ends.

This kind of government-union mandate applies to 22 states, including the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and most other New England and northeastern states.

Janus, supported by conservative organizations and individual-rights activists, contends that his First Amendment rights to free speech and free association are being abridged by state government and big labor. In a nutshell, Janus and other workers are forced to pay for union speech and activities without their consent, or they will be terminated from their government jobs.

The knotty question draws an eerie parallel to recent questions about the Obamacare mandates, which the Catholic bishops have courageously fought in the face of government coercion and liberal media criticism. That’s what makes the Catholic bishops conference’s alliance with big government and big labor in this case inexplicable:  These same government unions overwhelmingly support politicians who favor Obamacare mandates. Even more shocking, the big unions have regularly allied themselves with Planned Parenthood. According to reports, AFSCME contributed $400,000 to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in 2014; other unions ponied up far more.

These same big labor unions work through political action committees to elect politicians who are committed to imposing government mandates with respect to contraception and abortion, while eliminating conscience protections and diminishing religious liberty. As a practical matter, unions almost exclusively support liberal Democrats. The left-leaning Politico website describes Janus v. AFSCME as “a case that could shrink government unions and their campaign war chests by as much as two thirds, with potentially devastating consequences for the Democratic Party in a competitive election cycle … Democratic candidates and causes rely on the unions for more than $100 million in contributions every election cycle, and for armies of workers dispatched to staff phone banks and canvas neighborhoods across the country.”

Politico points out that AFSCME provided $26 million to Democrats in 2016, and other government unions contributed tens of millions more. Why would the organization that represents American Catholic bishops place the bishops in an embarrassing and partisan position that favors the Democrat Party, whose political platform completely opposes the bishops’ own teaching on life, family, and religious liberty?

Could the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops be at war with itself? Or, perhaps, is it at war with its very own bishops?

Out of the land of Abe Lincoln and Mark Janus comes a clarifying statement from Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois. Noting the untenable position of the bishops conference, Paprocki writes, “In fact, no vote was taken [among bishops] on whether to file such a brief. While church teaching clearly supports freedom of association and the right to form and join a union, it does not mandate coercing people to join a union or pay dues against their will … It is a matter of prudential judgment on which reasonable people can disagree as to whether the rights of association and free speech are helped or hindered by mandatory union dues.”

Clearly neither Bishop Paprocki nor other stalwart pro-life bishops had any input into the friend-of-the-court brief filed on January 19 by Anthony Picarello Jr., general counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The brief stretches common sense by bringing in such central concerns to the Church in the United States as “protection of the rights of parents and children, especially in education; the sanctity of human life; and the nature of marriage.” The bishops conference’s brief then absurdly claims that a victory for Janus “would represent another unfortunate decision of this Court that marginalizes the voice of the bishops with respect to an important public policy debate …”

In this case, it is the bishops conference’s bureaucracy, not the Court, that aims to “marginalize the voice of the bishops.” How else does one explain those bureaucrats choosing not to consult pro-life bishops prior to authorizing their divisive and controversial amicus curiae brief?

To talk about government mandating individual payment of union dues in the same breath as “the sanctity of human life” simply goes off the rails. Furthermore, on critical issues about parents, education, life, and marriage, big labor unions and their liberal allies in Congress routinely take positions inimical to the teaching of Catholic bishops.

For example, through the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, big labor opposes Catholic education, using its formidable political power to thwart family education vouchers, income tax incentives, or any other viable means of promoting school choice. Similarly, in addition to supporting Planned Parenthood and comparable liberal organizations, labor bosses funnel union political contributions to abortion supporters who consistently vote against proposals to rebuild an American culture that values “the sanctity of life.”

Most recently, the United States Senate voted on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a bill strongly supported by Catholic bishops. Massachusetts Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren both opposed this effort to protect unborn children. It’s no coincidence that both Markey and Warren can depend on generous support from government labor unions like AFSCME. In fact, one can detect a direct nationwide correlation:  Senators who receive the heftiest donations from big labor are disproportionately in the pro-abortion camp, constantly working against pro-life Catholic bishops.

Why is it that politicians like Markey and Warren who most loudly proclaim themselves “pro-choice” turn to the most draconian forms of compulsion when it comes to government mandates that restrict religious liberty and punish individual conscience? 

In addition to unwisely and indirectly using the authority of the country’s Catholic bishops in this partisan political realm, the bishops conference’s action also positions the hierarchy against The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a loyal ally of the Church against Obamacare contraception mandates. Among this nation’s most effective voices favoring religious liberty, The Beckett Fund filed its own friend-of-the-court brief stating that government-mandated union funding violates the First Amendment, compels political speech, pours funds into the coffers of unions, and has a “coercive effect on religious objectors.”

This obvious misstep on Janus v. AFSCME likely represents nothing more than some bishops conference bureaucrats ignoring the counsel of pro-life Catholic bishops. Still, it is unfortunate that the bishops conference put pro-life American Catholics and their bishops in the contradictory position of supporting a government mandate that conflicts with the conscience protections due individual workers, while potentially enriching the coffers of pro-abortion politicians.


Joseph Tortelli is a freelancer writer. Read other articles by Mr. Tortelli here.