A veteran Pennsylvania school teacher is taking on the biggest teachers’ union in the state because she feels her First Amendment rights are being trampled by the organization.
Linda Misja is taking the Pennsylvania State Education Association to court because she feels the union is holding her money hostage.
Linda Misja has been teaching French and English for 37 years and has rejected union membership all that time because she does not believe in the political and social policies the union supports. Misja is Roman Catholic and took issue with the union’s support of abortion rights groups like Planned Parenthood.
“There is no way that any amount of my money could go against my beliefs. Plain and simple,” she told Watchdog.
In Pennsylvania, teachers who choose not to be a member of the local teachers union can opt out in one of two ways.
They can become a “fair share” member and pay a prorated membership for only representational services. Or in Misja’s case, they can apply for a religious waiver, in which dues are funneled through the union and donated to charities the teacher picks.
For the last three years, Misja has had more than $2,000 of her wages placed in an escrow account as she and the Pennsylvania State Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, wrangle over where it will go.
Misja, who teaches at Apollo-Ridge High School, claims that her choices have been shot down by the union because they have been deemed too religious or too political.
Last week Misja filed a federal lawsuit against the PSEA in an effort to legally establish the union cannot maintain an arbitrary practice of restricting religious objectors’ choice of a charity. She is also seeking injunctive relief to enforce the Court’s ruling.
She initially requested that her money to go to a Pittsburgh pro-life group called People Concerned for the Unborn Child, which is opposed to artificial contraception, in-vitro fertilization and birth control.
“The union wrote me a letter and said I cannot put my money there,” Misja said. “They said it furthers my religious beliefs. I don’t know how. I’ve read their website and I don’t see that it is religious. It is a moral group, yes, but it doesn’t mention religion anywhere. It just helps young girls.”
The union suggested its own list of approved charities, which Misja has rejected because she does not believe in their missions and does not want to support them.
“The union countered with an offer asking me to send my money to an abortion clinic,” she said of Planned Parenthood. “How can that be logical to anybody? It’s a direct affront to me and my religion.”
Misja’s second choice was the National Rifle Association Foundation. She said she was rejected again on the grounds that her pick was “too political,” she said.
“It is the NRA’s charity arm; they work directly with public schools,” she said. “I was turned down because I was told that this group is political, and it is the union’s policy to turn down subsidiaries of political organizations.
“So right now I am at a standstill,” Misja said. “I have no idea where my money is. I have asked for that in writing and have not been given a response. So I had no recourse but to seek legal counsel.”
The PSEA did not respond to a request to comment on Misja’s complaint, which was filed by the Fairness Center pro bono law firm last week in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania.
According to the PSEA’s resolutions, the union “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,” said David Osborne, general counsel for the Fairness Center.
“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,” he said. “Meanwhile the charities on the union’s own approved list spent $27 million on political activity and lobbying.”
*** This article was written by Philadelphia-based education reporter Evan Grossman and has been republished with his permission from Watchdog.org where the story first appeared. ***
The rally has been organized annually by Bob Pawson and you can get more information at his event page on Facebook here.