June 18, 2015, HARRISBURG, Pa.—When Linda Misja started teaching 35 years ago, she never expected to end up in court defending her Constitutional right to donate to a charity free of union interference. But today Linda, a Pennsylvania public school teacher and a religious objector to forced unionism, has no choice but to sue the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), which—for purely political reasons—has illegally vetoed the charities she chose to receive her money.

“Pennsylvania law allows Linda, a bona fide religious objector to unionism, to donate the equivalent of her union’s ‘fair share’ fee to a non-religious charity agreed upon by her and the union,” commented David Osborne, general counsel for the Fairness Center, which represents Linda. “But the union has held Linda’s money in lieu of union fees in escrow for more than three years rather than allow it to reach her chosen charity—a violation of her First Amendment right to free speech.”

“Plain and simple, it is my money that I worked hard for,” said Linda. “I need my money to go to a charity in which I believe—one of my own choosing—not one a group tells me it has to go to. That, to me, is not freedom.”

For Linda, the stakes could not be higher. She wants to support a charity that provides care for teenage mothers in a pro-life environment. Linda has long been dedicated to this issue: She’s a former instructor for home-bound teens unable to attend classes due to pregnancy. She tutored these students in their homes to help them finish high school. But the PSEA—the largest teachers union in the state—rejected the cause she believes in because doing so would, in their words, “further [her] religious beliefs,” and instead insisted on a pregnancy center that counsels women on “all options.”

“Pennsylvania law protects those who, like Linda, object on religious grounds to sending their money to a union,” said Osborne.  “Similar state laws exist in 10 other states. In Linda’s case, the PSEA is arbitrarily adding to state law by imposing their own unwritten requirements that the charity’s politics also agree with their own.”

“Worse, the PSEA is taking advantage of a legal loophole which allows them to hold Linda’s money hostage until she submits to their demand to fund a charity from their pre-approved list,” Osborne said. “Because of their political agenda, the PSEA has prevented Linda’s money from reaching pregnant teens looking for help.”

Linda sees this as an affront to her professional freedom and her Constitutional rights. “I cannot accept that I do not have the freedom to donate to a cause I believe in with my own money,” she said.

The PSEA agrees with Linda—at least rhetorically. The union’s own resolutions state: “The Association reaffirms the constitutional right and obligation of all education employees, individually and/or collectively, to participate in all aspects of the democratic political process and encourages all education employees, to actively do so. The Association must resist any efforts to deny or suppress the exercise of those rights.”

“The hypocrisy is hard to stomach,” Osborne remarked. “When Linda tried to resolve this issue by requesting that her money go to a non-profit gun safety charity, the PSEA rejected it because of its connection to the National Rifle Association—a group too ‘political’ for the PSEA. Meanwhile the charities on the union’s own approved list spent $27 million on political activity and lobbying.”

Osborne concluded:

“Linda is seeking to expose the PSEA’s abusive and unconstitutional practice, have the court declare their actions illegal, and prevent the union from abusing the religious objection process going forward. A favorable ruling could affect how religious objectors to union membership are treated across the country.”

The Plaintiff

Linda Misja has been a language teacher for over 35 years. She currently teaches French at Apollo-Ridge High School in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania. Linda is fluent in two foreign languages and has earned two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s degree, and three Pennsylvania teaching certifications. She is a PhD student at the Pennsylvania State University.

Case Documents

Linda Misja and David Osborne are available for comment. Please contact Conner Drigotas, 844.293.1001, cddrigotas@fairnesscenter.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.