- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2002

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ordered the National Education Association and its state affiliates to stop violating the religious rights of members who disagree with the union's political causes.
In a ruling made public yesterday, the federal agency said it would sue the nation's largest teachers union if it did not stop forcing teachers who categorized themselves as "religious objectors" to undergo annual written procedures so their dues would not fund the union's political agenda.
Some objectors say the NEA's agenda promotes pro-abortion, pro-homosexuality positions and policies that interfere with parental rights.
"The evidence obtained during the investigation establishes a violation of a federal statute has occurred," Michael Fetzer, EEOC's district director, wrote in a May 13 letter to the NEA.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, union officials may not force any employee to financially support a union if doing so violates the employee's sincerely held religious beliefs. The law allows union members to donate their fees to charities of their choice if supporting the unions violates their religious beliefs.
The union's policy was designed to harass teachers of all faiths, attorneys representing the objectors said.
"The NEA union's illegal scheme is intended to force teachers of faith to shut up and pay up," said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a Virginia-based nonprofit group that represented the objectors.
"The EEOC's action further underscores that the nation's largest teacher union is systematically persecuting people of faith," Mr. Gleason said.
NEA officials said yesterday they could not comment on the ruling because they had not seen a copy of it. "We are awaiting the letter," said Kathleen Lyons, a spokeswoman for the NEA. "We will be able to comment on it after we receive it and review it."
In their complaint to the EEOC, the attorneys for the objecting teachers argued that the union's nationwide policy unlawfully placed an undue burden on teachers and that teachers should be able to file one-time objections to forced union dues.
The charges stemmed from a case in Ohio, where a high school teacher filed a complaint with the EEOC against the Ohio Education Association in 2000, after union officials there rebuffed the teacher's long-standing objection over his dues during the 1999-2000 school year.
Dennis Robey, a member of the Church of God, made his religious objections public to union officials in 1995 and said he wanted his dues to go to Habitat for Humanity. Dues in Ohio are about $400.
After 1999, union officials began demanding that Mr. Robey fill out a lengthy form each year in which he must describe in detail his religious views.
On the form, union officials asked what Mr. Robey called "probing personal questions" about his relationship with God and his religious affiliation. They also required him to obtain a signature from a religious official attesting to the validity of his beliefs.
The EEOC said its investigation found an "unnecessary delay" in the Ohio Education Association's response to teachers who had asked that they be categorized as religious objectors early last year. The commission said that even though the Ohio Education Association complied with teachers' requests, it took the local union up to nine months to process. "The amount of time it took the union to accommodate teachers was unreasonable," Mr. Fetzer wrote.
The agency also concluded that the union's requirement that objectors submit annual written statements was burdensome.
"Once an individual is on the record that he/she objects to paying fair share fee and has designated an agreed upon charity to which his/her portion of the fair share will be donated, he/she should not be required to reiterate the objection on an annual basis," Mr. Fetzer wrote.
The EEOC has given the NEA and its affiliates time to eliminate the annual procedure. If the NEA does not, the EEOC will seek to resolve the issue in court.
Daniel Cronin, director of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation's legal information department, said the foundation receives about 100 reports each year from teachers who have complaints about the NEA's policies regarding religious objectors.
He said the ruling should change that.
"This hopefully will make life easier for these teachers," Mr. Cronin said.


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