Letters | Canned Thomism, public-sector unions

HOYA SAXA

In your February 12 issue, Gary Gutting bemoans the diminishing number of philosophy requirements in Catholic college curricula (“Intellectual Maintenance”). I graduated from Georgetown in 1962, the heyday of philosophy requirements. Every undergraduate was required to be a philosophy minor; indeed only four more courses were needed to make it a major, leading many jocks to become philosophy majors as the easiest way to a degree. The quality of the lectures aspired to be abysmal. We were bombarded with everything from Thomas Aquinas to Thomas Aquinas, however I don’t recall ever receiving an assignment or even a suggestion that we read any original text. Rather, we were given twentieth-century glosses—one of which was read to us, page by page, day after day, by a particularly dunderheaded Jesuit in a four-credit course. The only mention of other philosophers (other than the safely-dead-for-millennia ancient Greeks) was to refute them with a few facile sentences of condemnation. I finally did receive some excellent lectures on Aquinas in a jurisprudence course taught by the brilliant Harry Jones at Columbia Law School.

Robert Harley
Brooklyn, N.Y.

 

COLLECTIVE INACTION

You were correct, in your recent editorial (“Union Dues & Don’ts,” February 26), to observe both that “labor unions can be corrupt, obstructionist, and maddeningly bureaucratic” and that “they are also important mediating institutions.” However, I respectfully disagree with your contention that, in the currently pending case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the Supreme Court should uphold the mandatory agency shop that is being challenged as a violation of the First Amendment.

It is well established that the First Amendment protects the rights of expression and association as well as the right not to speak and associate. The Court’s ruling, almost forty years ago, in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which allowed the practice of requiring public employees—as a condition of their public employment—to pay agency fees, was wrong the day it was decided, and the justices would do well to overrule it now. 

To say this is certainly not to reject or question the church’s social teachings on the dignity of labor, the right of workers to associate, or the important civil-society role played by mediating institutions. (That said, it should be noted that those teachings do not require those who embrace them to support uncritically the political activities of public-sector unions.) The point is not that “money is speech” or that free speech should—in the editorial’s words—”trump every other right or social good.” It is, instead, that it burdens the freedoms of speech and association when governments make it a condition of public employment that an employee financially support a public-sector union, just as it would burden the freedom of speech for governments to require public employees to contribute, as a condition of employment, to the production, printing, and mailing of political literature for the Republican Party. Governments have an interest, to be sure, in protecting the rights of public-sector workers to associate and advocate, but that interest doesn’t justify mandatory agency-fee arrangements. That public-sector unions tend to support the Democratic Party and the challenge is being brought by a “right-wing libertarian group” should not affect the analysis of the constitutional claim.

Richard W. Garnett
Paul J. Schierl / Fort Howard Corporation Professor of Law
University of Notre Dame

Published in the March 11, 2016 issue: 
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