Blog Religious Objectors & Janus

Lindsey A. Wanner

In Pennsylvania, public employee union nonmembers can object to union payments on sincere religious grounds.[1] Instead of paying nonmember fees (also called fair share fees) to the union, religious objectors must pay an equivalent sum to a nonreligious charity agreed to by the union.[2] At least ten other states besides Pennsylvania have similar laws allowing such a religious objection.

It’s the nonreligious charity requirement that has recently led to litigation in Pennsylvania. Four Pennsylvania public school teachers represented by the Fairness Center have for several years been embroiled in litigation against the state’s largest teachers’ union (PSEA) regarding the direction of their charitable funds. For example, public school teachers Jane Ladley (since retired) and Chris Meier, filed suit in Lancaster County after their funds—which are meant to go to charity—were held in escrow because the teachers’ union rejected their charity choices.

Recently, Jane and Chris filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v AFSCME, Council 31. Janus has the potential to overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, a case that allows public sector unions to collect fair share fees. In their brief, Jane and Chris outline the unique challenges religious objectors face, in part because of Abood. Some of those challenges are quickly outlined below.

First, unions have a history of accepting religious objections from employees of certain denominations while rejecting religious objections from others—essentially picking and choosing whether a person sufficiently holds legitimate religious views.[3] This practice continues even though it has long been considered unconstitutional.[4]

Second, after a person’s religious views are deemed acceptable by the union, the union typically remains highly invested in dictating which charities the religious objector funds. In Jane’s and Chris’s case, the teachers’ union will only allow their money to go to charities with certain viewpoints—specifically, only viewpoints that are consistent with union constitution, bylaws, or policies.

Finally, there is a lack of due process for religious objectors during adjudication of their objections. For example, after the union rejected Jane’s and Chris’s charity selections, it informed them that they would be subject to mandatory final and binding arbitration. Should they refuse, the PSEA would unilaterally send their money to a charity of its own choosing.

It's no surprise that religious objectors like Jane and Chris find it difficult to distance themselves from their union on religious grounds when the union—the same union that has virtually zero incentive to efficiently assist religious objectors, since it keeps collecting their dues and fees until the objection is effectively resolved—is in the position of adjudicating their rights. They are forced into time-consuming litigation to achieve a fair resolution with the union.

For Jane, Chris, and similar religious objectors in Pennsylvania, a Supreme Court ruling in Janus that overrules Abood would free them from having to pay fair share fees in the first place.

Oral argument in Janus v. AFSCME is scheduled for February 26, 2018.

You can read Jane’s and Chris’s entire amicus brief here.


[1] 71 P.S. § 575(a); 71 P.S. § 575(h)

[2] Id.

[3] See Katter v. Ohio Emp’t Relations Bd., 492 F. Supp. 2d 851, 854 (S.D. Ohio 2007).

[4] See NLRB, Advice Mem. to SEIU, Local 6, No. 19-CB-5151, 1984 WL 972702 (Sept. 27, 1984); Larson v. Valente, 456 U.S. 228 (1982); Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 533 (1970); United States v. Seeger, 388 U.S. 163 (1965).