- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 24, 2002

The National Education Association and three of its Ohio affiliates have agreed to "make reasonable accommodation" for members with religious objections to funding the group's political causes.
In a "conciliation agreement" issued this week by the Cleveland District Office of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, lawyers for the NEA, the Ohio Education Association, the Huber Heights Education Association and the Montpelier Education Association agreed they will handle requests from members who have differences on religious grounds in a "timely manner." They also agreed to help choose a charity to receive the dues and will require religious objectors to register their disagreements "once and not annually."
The agreement comes following pressure by the EEOC. In May, the EEOC found that the 2.4-million-member NEA the nation's largest teachers union violated the religious rights of members by subjecting them to invasive questionnaires when they sought to direct their dues toward a charity rather than the union's political causes.
In the new agreement, the NEA and other teachers groups do not admit to any wrongdoing.
In its ruling last spring, the EEOC warned it would sue the NEA if it did not end what a complainant said were annual interrogations of religious members unhappy with the union's support of family planning clinics at schools, homosexual rights and policies some critics say interfere with parental rights.
Chris Lopez, general counsel for the Ohio Education Association, yesterday denied the union forced anyone to fill out the questionnaire annually, and he denied claims that it is invasive. In fact, he said, the questionnaire will continue to be used but only once or twice, depending on circumstances.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which represented a veteran Ohio teacher who said he was subjected to yearly interrogations about his religious beliefs, claimed he was the victim of religious discrimination and filed a complaint with the local EEOC.
Because an attorney for the NEA signed the new agreement, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation said it believed the decision applied nationally. However, Mr. Lopez said yesterday that the agreement applies only to teachers in Ohio.
The legal foundation said the questionnaire intruded upon the religious rights of teachers.
"We know they are forcing religious people to jump through hoops every year," said Dan Cronin, director of legal information for the foundation, a nonprofit group that provides free legal aid to workers whose rights are violated by "compulsory unionism abuses."
"For years, the NEA union has used this particular illegal scheme to intimidate and harass teachers of faith who dare to challenge their radical agenda," said Stefan Gleason, the foundation's vice president.
"The EEOC finding of a violation further underscores that this nation's largest teachers union has systematically persecuted people of faith," Mr. Gleason said.
Attempts to get a statement yesterday from the NEA were unsuccessful.
Michael Fetzer, Cleveland district director of the EEOC, which was directly involved in the case, said he was prohibited from making any comment at this time.
In the case, lawyers for the Right to Work Foundation represented Dennis Robey, a high school industrial arts teacher in Huber Heights, Ohio, near Dayton.
"Mr. Robey has been a card-carrying member of the NEA since the 1970s," Mr. Cronin said. Mr. Robey also paid dues to the NEA's Ohio affiliate from the time he started teaching until the mid-1990s.
But in the 1995 school year, Mr. Cronin said, Mr. Robey discovered the NEA took positions that "violated his religious beliefs."
"He's a Christian," Mr. Cronin said of the Ohio teacher.
He said Mr. Robey made arrangements with the Ohio Education Association of which he is a member to turn over the $400 a year he paid in union dues to a charity for the school years 1995-96 through 1998-99.
"But in the 1999-2000 school year, the union really turned on the heat," Mr. Cronin said.
He said that the Ohio Education Association rebuffed Mr. Robey's religious objections to paying union dues, and the OEA demanded he describe his religious beliefs in detail each year, fill out a questionnaire and file it with the teachers union.
According to the foundation, union officials "asked probing personal questions about his relationship with God," his religious affiliation and required him to obtain a signature from a "religious official" attesting to the validity of his beliefs.
"Mr. Robey was told that either he filled out the form or the union would not grant him a religious exception, and he could be fired. He was also told if he didn't fill out the form, his money would not be given to charity," Mr. Cronin said.
Mr. Robey teamed up with the Right to Work Foundation, which filed a complaint with the EEOC.
Lawyers for the foundation charged that the OEA and the NEA, which they say imposed this policy nationally, violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That law stipulates that union officials must try to accommodate an employee's religious beliefs if they conflict with financially supporting a union.
Rather than being required to pay dues to a union that supports causes a worker deems to be immoral, the worker is allowed to donate the money to a charity.
"No one should be forced to give money for an agenda they don't believe in. That's like requiring [Rep.] Barney Frank to give money to the Traditional Values Coalition," which opposes homosexual rights, Mr. Cronin said.
The EEOC ruled that the NEA policy unlawfully places a burden on teachers and that they need only file a one-time objection to paying dues. It also found that the OEA took too long to process teachers' requests to be classified as religious objectors.
Given Mr. Lopez's comments yesterday, Mr. Cronin said the foundation may have to keep pushing the issue.
"We'll keep fighting. We won't be intimidated he's backtracking because he got caught red-handed," the foundation spokesman said.

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