EEOC Suggests Ohio Union Violated Members' Religious Rights

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has found evidence that the National Education Association and its Ohio affiliate have violated the religious rights of members who disagree with union causes.

A letter sent by the federal agency's Cleveland office to the Washington-based union and the 125,000-member Ohio Education Association, dated Oct. 4, states that there was an "unnecessary delay" in the Ohio union's response to members who had asked that they be categorized as "religious objectors" last school year. The members had requested that a portion of their annual state dues—some $400 apiece—be dedicated to charities of their choice rather than be used to support the Ohio union's political agenda. That agenda, they say, backs abortion and homosexuality, which the members object to.

In addition, the commission deemed the union's requirement that objectors submit annual written statements burdensome.

"Once an individual is on record that he/she objects to paying a fair-share fee and has designated an agreed-upon charity ... he/she should not be required to reiterate the objection," the EEOC letter says.

Federal law allows union members to donate their fees to charity if supporting the union violates their religious beliefs.

But Christopher A. Lopez, the general counsel for the Ohio union, said the time frame of six to nine months to determine eligibility status was not unreasonable, given that the review cycle is complicated and depends on many other internal factors.

Charges 'Not True'

Critics contend that the union has a more malicious agenda.

The union's "illegal scheme was designed to harass and humiliate teachers of faith," charged Randy Wanke, the director of legal information for the National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation, a Springfield, Va.-based nonprofit group that represented the complaining Ohio union members.

Mr. Lopez dismissed the foundation's charges as "not true." The union "has become more accommodating over the years, not less so," he said.

During the 1999-2000 school year, 97 members of the OEA applied for religious-objector classification, Mr. Lopez said. Of those, 46 applications were denied.

Vol. 20, Issue 6, Page 6

Published in Print: October 11, 2000, as EEOC Suggests Ohio Union Violated Members' Religious Rights
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