Freedom of Conscience in the Workplace

Freedom of Conscience in the Workplace

2015 | Week of February 23 – #1086

Our state constitution makes it very clear that the conscience rights of our citizens are to be respected. Article 1, Section 18, which deals with religious freedom, says, in part, “…nor shall any control of, or interference with, the rights of conscience be permitted….” In other words in all places at all times the citizens of Wisconsin should be able to live and work according to the dictates of their conscience. 

But for many in our state, that’s a right that’s been forfeited for many years as it relates to the workplace. Right now, state law says that private companies with unions are “closed shops.” That is, any employee that works for these companies must join the union, which includes paying membership dues. There’s no option if a person wants to work there.

Our opposition to this reality isn’t based on hating unions. In their early days especially, unions were important for establishing labor laws, including child labor, and other worker protections.  In fact in part because of the work of labor unions, these protections are now part of state and federal law.

Unfortunately, however, unions have gotten involved in more than just protecting workers. Over the years, they’ve taken positions on issues such as abortion and marriage redefinition and have been very active in supporting candidates, often candidates who are pro-abortion and who are very much in favor of redefining and thereby destroying marriage.

In 2006 when Wisconsin had the marriage protection amendment on the ballot, the powerful private-sector AFL-CIO Wisconsin came out against the marriage amendment.[1] More recently, the national AFL-CIO and other private-sector unions have become especially vocal in support of redefining marriage.[2]

In 2011, this same AFL-CIO union joined with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin in sponsoring a rally at the state capitol during the Act 10 demonstrations.[3] A cursory look at the candidates the AFL-CIO of Wisconsin endorsed in 2014 reveals that the vast majority of these candidates are pro-abortion and pro-same-sex marriage.[4]

The reality is that pushing for redefining marriage, sponsoring rallies with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and endorsing candidates takes money, money that comes from the dues of Wisconsin workers, many of whom disagree with the union’s ideological positions and political activity. Their belief system, their conscience rights, have been violated in the workplace.

In 2006 when Wisconsin’s marriage amendment was on the ballot, we had many citizens call our office outraged that they were forced to either keep paying their membership dues to their local union which had come out against the amendment or lose their job. They were incensed that their conscience rights were being trampled, and they had no viable choice in the matter.

Earlier this week, the state legislature took the first steps to rectify this situation and protect the conscience rights of all of Wisconsin’s workers. Senate Bill 44 has been introduced and will be the only bill in an Executive Session. The idea is to get this bill passed quickly in the State Senate and send it to the State Assembly no later than early next week. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has indicated that body will take up the bill in March.

Some call Senate Bill 44 a Right to Work bill. We see it as “Freedom of Conscience in the Workplace” legislation. This bill doesn’t outlaw unions; it simply lets workers have a choice about whether or not they join a union. It fleshes out for workers and the workplace what Article I, Section 18 of our state constitution guarantees: protection of one’s conscience.

From our perspective and based on the Wisconsin Constitution, no citizen should be forced, as a matter of getting or keeping employment, to join and pay dues to a labor organization, especially if that labor organization engages in issue advocacy and political activity in support of positions and candidates that violate the closely held beliefs, in other words, the conscience, of the employee.

“…[N]or shall any control of, or interference with, the rights of conscience be permitted….”  Perhaps in the near future this portion of Wisconsin’s constitution will become a reality for all Wisconsin workers.

This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”






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