- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2002

Two public school employees from Ohio who are at the center of a national religious-discrimination case involving the National Education Association testified before a congressional hearing yesterday in favor of ending forced unionism.

Dennis Robey and Kathleen Klamut told the House Education Workforce workforce protections subcommittee that the nation's largest teachers' union systematically discriminates against those members who have religious objections to supporting the union's political causes, including abortion and homosexual rights.

Both employees testified yesterday that they were subjected to an extensive interrogation by union officials when they asked that their annual dues be redirected to a charity of their choice.

"The union threatens to take my job away unless I violate my religious beliefs," Mrs. Klamut told subcommittee members. "The union claims it has the power to do this. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. I do not know which is correct."

In the case of Mrs. Klamut, a school psychologist from Ravenna, union officials rejected her request for a charitable donation and are now threatening to take legal action against her after they found out she filed charges against them with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

At the hearing, NEA General Counsel Robert Chanin told the subcommittee that the union only uses contributions from its political-action committee and not union dues to support political candidates and parties.

"We engage in political activity. We lobby. We do issue work. We have to do that to represent our people," Mr. Chanin told subcommittee members. "Other than to educate and work with our own members in regards to education-favorable candidates, the NEA does not use its general treasury money to support candidates for a federal election. It only uses its PAC money."

Mr. Chanin also testified that the union accommodates religious objectors, who under the law have the right to ask the union to have their annual dues redirected to a charity of their choice.

"There is no union in the country that has devoted more effort than has the NEA and its affiliates to the development and implementation of a legally sound procedure for accommodating the objections of agency fee payers," Mr. Chanin testified, "whether those objections are based on political or religious grounds."

But Mr. Robey, a high school teacher from Dayton, testified that he filed charges against the NEA and its local affiliates after they refused to honor his religious objection to supporting the union's stance on abortion and homosexuality. The EEOC ruled on Robey's case last month.

"All these years, I have faithfully objected, jumped through all the union's hoops and paid the money, which ultimately went to charity," he told the panel. "It has not been easy, and it has been a distraction for my work, which is to teach students, and my family life."

Mr. Chanin's comments came in response to accusations brought up in lawsuits filed by the Virginia-based Landmark Legal Foundation and the National Right to Work Committee and Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF), both based in Washington state.

"We are not disputing legitimate lobbying activities," EFF President Bob Williams said yesterday. "But straightforward politicking should be paid through voluntary contributions."

The subcommittee's hearings come nearly a month after the EEOC found that the NEA discriminates against religious objectors.

The EEOC concluded that the union requires objectors to annually undergo extensive interrogation before honoring their right to divert dues away from union officials.


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