A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Analysis

By Honoring Football Anthem Protests, Union Dishonors Teachers Who Dissent

Example of how NEA’s compulsory dues violated teachers First Amendment rights

The National Education Association awarded the union’s highest honor - called the President’s Award - to former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for political activism related to last year’s national anthem demonstrations by professional football players.

The recognition of Kaepernick by the national teachers union sheds an interesting light on the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling against public employee unions in the case of Janus v. AFSCME.

The Supreme Court ruled June 27 by a 5-4 vote that forcing public sector employees to pay dues or fees to a union violates workers’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

Kaepernick has become a polarizing force in this country. He angered many by comparing modern police to the slave patrols of the 1700s and 1800s, and by showing up for practice wearing socks with images of pigs in police hats.

Kaepernick’s explanation of why he refused to stand for the national anthem was: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” according to NFL.com.

A 2016 poll by Reuters stated that 61 percent of Americans do not agree with Kaepernick’s protests of racial injustice and police brutality. By choosing to honor Kaepernick then, the teachers union expressed a viewpoint that runs contrary to the beliefs of many of its members, and using those school employees' money to do so.

In a survey of its teachers done in 2006, the National Education Association found 45 percent of teachers under 30 classified themselves as conservative and 63 percent of teachers age 40 to 49 classified themselves as conservative.

And that gets to the essence of the Janus ruling by the highest court.

“Forcing free and independent individuals to endorse ideas they find objectionable raises serious First Amendment concerns,” the majority opinion stated.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote: “Compelling individuals to mouth support for views they find objectionable violates that cardinal constitutional command, and in most contexts, any such effort would be universally condemned. Suppose, for example, that the State of Illinois required all residents to sign a document expressing support for a particular set of positions on controversial public issues — say, the platform of one of the major political parties. No one, we trust, would seriously argue that the First Amendment permits this.”

Patrick Wright, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s vice president for legal affairs, said it was ironic that NEA gave out an award for civil rights activism when the Supreme Court ruled it had violated free speech rights of its own members for decades.

“For 41 years they have been stealing billions of dollars for political speech from people who disagree with it and now they are handing out a civil rights award to a controversial speaker,” Wright said.