Contact: Conner Drigotas, 844.293.1001, email@example.com
March 30, 2016, HARRISBURG, Pa.—The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) is headed for a constitutional showdown over due process violations. For years, the largest teachers’ union in the state has been coercing its religious objectors to send their money to union-approved charities and has refused arbitration.
This week, U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones, III, rejected the union’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Fairness Center on behalf of Linda Misja, a public schoolteacher and religious objector to forced unionism. The suit challenges the union for refusing to let Misja direct the equivalent of her union “fair share fee” to a pro-life charity.
The court said the “vague” religious objector statute the union uses “is primed to run headlong into a confrontation with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
“I’m glad the court agrees with me that unions should not be able to bully teachers who object to unionism for religious reasons,” commented Misja, who teachers French in Apollo-Ridge School District. “I have the right to use my hard-earned money to support my beliefs, even if they contradict the union’s agenda.”
Notably, Judge Jones’ also expanded civil rights protections available to government employees, finding that, in this case, public sector unions are “state actor[s]” and must afford constitutional protections to public employees.
“For too long, government unions have coopted state and local governments to force money and support from public employees,” stated David Osborne, president and general counsel of the Fairness Center. “Judge Jones’ order says that if a union uses the power of the government to make people join and participate, the courts must protect the constitutional rights of government employees from union intimidation.”
Misja is a devout Catholic, but the PSEA rejected her chosen charity, a non-religious, pro-life pregnancy center, because it would “further [her] religious beliefs.” Instead, the union has been holding her money in escrow for more than three years, pressuring her to back a charity that supports the union’s ideology—even recommending that Misja send her money to a pregnancy center that supports abortion.
In his order, Judge Jones pointed to Jane Ladley and Chris Meier v. Pennsylvania State Education Association—a similar, pending case brought by the Fairness Center in 2014 in Lancaster County Court. The judge in that case also rejected PSEA’s attempt to have the case dismissed, noting a possible solution would be adding a “reasonableness” requirement to the statute.
Judge Jones implied the state court may wish to revisit the core constitutional issue of due process, as no mechanism exists for resolving disputes between the union and religious objectors.
“This is a major step forward for Linda and for all Pennsylvania teachers,” stated David Osborne. “Union leaders are demanding teachers conform to their ideology—even trying to control the charities they support. Both state and federal courts have now confirmed the PSEA’s arbitrary requirements don’t pass muster. We look forward to defending Linda, Jane, and Chris against unaccountable union leaders as these cases move forward.”
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David Osborne is available for comment today. Please contact Conner Drigotas, 844.293.1001, firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an interview.
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The Fairness Center is a nonprofit, public interest law firm offering free legal services to those facing unjust treatment from public employee union leaders. For more information visit www.FairnessCenter.org.