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Week in Review: Teacher Leads Fight for Workers' Freedom

June 16, 2018

June 16, 2018

From the time Rebecca Friedrichs stepped in an elementary school classroom almost 30 years ago, she’s loved instilling knowledge in her students’ minds. But while Rebecca is usually the one teaching lessons to others, she learned a big lesson early in her career—and it put her on the path to leading the fight for workers’ freedom.

When Rebecca was just beginning her teaching career, she observed another teacher getting in her students’ faces and yelling at them. When she asked her master teacher what could be done, Rebecca recently explained to the Goldwater Institute’s In Defense of Liberty blog, “My master teacher sat me down and said ‘Rebecca, today’s the day you learn about teachers unions and teacher tenure.’” She learned that collective bargaining grievance procedures protected teachers who engaged in this kind of behavior—which in Rebecca’s eyes bordered on abuse—and indeed, the offending teacher remained in the classroom until her retirement.

Nearly three decades into her teaching career, Rebecca began to speak more publicly about the damage being done by teachers’ unions. Within six months, she became the lead plaintiff—alongside nine other California public school teachers—in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a lawsuit challenging “forced unionism.” The U.S. Supreme Court heard the case, and though many expected the Court to side with Rebecca, her case ended in a split 4-4 decision following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. That meant public employees like schoolteachers could be forced by their unions to fund political activities they don’t support.

But this month, the Supreme Court is set to rule on a case with similar free speech ramifications. In Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Mark Janus, a child support specialist working for the Illinois state government, was forced to pay dues to his union, even though he didn’t agree with the policies the union was supporting—a violation of his First Amendment rights. In December 2017, the Goldwater Institute joined with organizations in California, Massachusetts, and elsewhere, to file an amicus brief in the Janus case. For Rebecca Friedrichs (who herself submitted a brief supporting Janus), a win would be an important step in a continuing journey. “Mark’s case is just the first domino. We have so many more fights ahead of us to truly free workers,” she explains.

Liberty in the News

The U.S. Supreme Court shored up people’s right to free speech at polling places this week, issuing a decision that upholds the right to wear articles of clothing and accessories with political messages on Election Day. The Goldwater Institute filed an amicus brief in support of voters’ right to express themselves at the polls, maintaining that it is not the government’s place to stop people from “persuading” each other, as long as they do so in a peaceful manner.

On Monday, the Goldwater Institute was in an Orlando courtroom trying to score a touchdown for the freedom of speech. The Institute argued on behalf of University of Central Florida kicker Donald De La Haye, who lost his spot on his college football team and his scholarship all for exercising his First Amendment rights.

You don’t need a high school diploma to be governor, but you do need one to be a barber. Our friends at the Beacon Center in Tennessee are challenging the diploma requirement in court. Read more about it on our In Defense of Liberty blog.



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