Published May 23, 2002
WASHINGTON – The National Education Association is on thin ice after a federal agency warned it last week to stop violating the rights of teachers who object on religious grounds to paying union dues or face legal charges.
In a pair of letters to the NEA and its affiliate in Huber Heights, Ohio, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission wrote that the union was unduly burdening members who have opted out of paying their dues based on religious objections.
Under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, union members are permitted the right to donate dues to charity if they object for religious reasons to their union's political positioning or choice of charitable recipients.
"The union has to reform its wicked ways and has to stop harassing teachers," said Dan Cronin of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
Cronin's organization filed the complaint with the EEOC on behalf of Ohio teacher Dennis Robey. Robey, who objected to the use of his contributions to support a pro-choice, pro-homosexual social agenda, was forced to "jump through hoops" before he could contribute his dues elsewhere, Cronin said.
Among those hoops, Robey was made to fill out an invasive annual questionnaire before he was allowed to defer his dues, Cronin said, adding that Robey said he believed the questionnaires were used to gauge whether he was "religious enough" to defer his union dues. Furthermore, the NEA delayed his request for an inordinate period.
The EEOC agreed. According to the letters, dated May 13, the EEOC said that the amount of time it took for the unions to accommodate objectors was "unreasonable," and the annual forms were unnecessary.
The agency found that Robey’s rights had been violated and if the "alleged unlawful practices" are not eliminated and the teacher's request resolved, the commission may seek to prosecute the matter in court.
NEA headquarters in Washington, D.C. did not return phone calls to Fox News seeking comment.
Cronin said Robey's complaint dates back to 1995, when he learned that his union "had passed resolutions that took on a lot of hot button social issues," including support for school-based family planning centers and special protections for homosexuals.
Though Robey had objected in previous years, he was not asked to start filling out the questionnaire until 1999, after which he subsequently filed his complaint, Cronin said.
Cronin, whose organization represents dozens of teachers with similar issues against the NEA, said Robey is fortunate. Other complainants have been forced to pay dues when they filed for objector status or were flat-out denied the option of donating to charity.
"We get a lot of calls from teachers who say, 'I don’t know what my rights are, do I have to give my dues to them anyway?'" said Cronin. "They feel they are being forced between doing what they love to do, which is teaching kids, and supporting an agenda they don’t agree with."