Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill. objected to some news coverage of the case that depicted the legal brief as a position adopted by the U.S. bishops.
"In fact, no vote was taken on whether to file such a brief," he said Feb. 13. "While church teaching clearly supports freedom of association and the right to form and join a union, it does not mandate coercing people to join a union or pay dues against their will."
The fact that Bishop Paprocki and other bishops have not voiced support for "right to work" laws "does not necessarily or logically imply support for litigation opposing 'right to work' laws," he said. Neither has he voiced support for litigation in opposition to mandatory union dues.
"At most, the lack of any statement favoring either side should imply neutrality," he said.
For Paprocki, the question of whether rights of association and free speech are helped or hurt by mandatory dues is "a matter of prudential judgment on which reasonable people can disagree as to whether the rights of association and free speech are helped or hindered by mandatory union dues."
However, Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh was critical of the suit, citing American Catholics' traditional support for unions.
He praised the role of unions, saying they help raise wages, bring family benefits, ensure worker safety, and help keep workers from being exploited. These benefits arise even for people do not belong to unions.
Writing in a Feb. 19 column in the Pittsburgh Catholic, he said "I don't agree with every position taken by every labor union. But I believe - as the Catholic bishops of this country have long believed - that unions benefit society as a whole. Like all human institutions, they are flawed. Their own rank-and-file, however, are empowered to reform them. When a beneficial institution is flawed, we should seek to fix it, not destroy it."
"I urge any Catholic union member to push for reform of union policies that may occasionally be unjust or wrong-headed," he said. "That's democracy at work. But if the Supreme Court rules that union political advocacy violates the free speech rights of someone who has agreed to a union job, that ruling will threaten any organization that takes a stand on any issue."
"The man who brought the lawsuit took a union job, agreed to the union terms, and then sued on free speech grounds because he objected to the union's political positions," Bishop Zubik continued. "It's similar to someone who has taken a job in the Catholic Church arguing that he should be allowed to keep his job while also publicly advocating for abortion. He knew the terms of employment when he accepted them."
CNA sought comment from the U.S. bishops' conference and Bishop Paprocki. The bishop was unavailable, while the bishops' conference did not respond.