Skip to comments.SYMPOSIUM Q: Is the National Education Association Being Fair to Its Religious Objectors?
Posted on 06/10/2002 8:24:57 AM PDT by Stand Watch Listen
NO: The NEA's primary goal is to impose its radical social agenda on public education.
By Stefan Gleason
In May, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) determined that the National Education Association (NEA) systematically discriminates against teachers who have a religious objection to joining or supporting that teachers union. This confirmed once again that the nation's largest teachers union has a bias against people of faith who do not support its radical social agenda.
If the NEA continues to stonewall and harass teachers by subjecting them annually to endure a burdensome and invasive process before respecting their religious objections to union affiliation, the union could be sued in federal court, the commission determined.
The ruling stems from a case brought by Ohio teacher Dennis Robey, with the help of National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorneys, against the NEA and its local affiliates after they refused to honor his religious objection to supporting the union. Like so many other conscientious teachers across the United States, Robey is outraged at his forced association with the union's aggressive promotion of abortion, special rights for homosexuals and its continued attempts to interfere with parental rights.
A dedicated Christian, Robey began to make his religious objections known in 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Robey faced continued delays and other hassles from the Huber Heights Education Association, the NEA's local affiliate in Ohio. The union finally, although begrudgingly, honored his status as a religious objector, which allows him instead to send his dues to a charity.
During the 1999-2000 school year, union officials tried to turn up the pressure on Robey. They rebuffed his long-standing objection and demanded that he describe in detail his deeply held personal religious views, fill out a lengthy and invasive form and file it with the union every year.
On the form, union officials asked probing personal questions about his relationship with God and his "religious affiliation" and required him to obtain a signature from a "religious official" attesting to the validity of his beliefs.
Under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, union officials may not force any employee financially to support a union if doing so violates the employee's sincerely held religious beliefs. To accommodate the conflict between an employee's faith and a requirement to pay fees to a union he believes to be immoral, the law allows an employee instead to donate that money to charity.
After a lengthy legal battle, the EEOC agreed with the arguments of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorneys that the union policy unlawfully places an undue burden on teachers, and that teachers need only file a one-time objection to paying forced union dues. Under the commission's ruling, NEA officials must stop the use of these practices or face a federal lawsuit.
Unfortunately, this is a problem that thousands of teachers across the country face every year. As NEA union officials have become more militant in their support for radical social causes such as public funding of abortion on demand, distribution of contraception from public schools or special rights for homosexuals, teachers with strong religious convictions are forced either to risk harassment or compromise their beliefs. Here are a few recent examples of the harassment that teachers of faith face:
- California teacher-union officials are refusing to accommodate teachers' objections unless they pay their annual dues in full up front and within a two-week window. Clearly this tactic is used in the hope that teachers will not be able to produce the money and will be forced to continue financing the union's radical agenda.
- In Michigan and Indiana, teachers were forced to appear before a union tribunal where union lawyers cross-examined them to try and prove that the teachers were lying.
- During the 1999-2000 school year, union bosses in Pennsylvania would donate only a portion of a Pittsburgh teacher's dues to charity and intended to keep the rest. During the 2000-2001 school year, the union refused to honor the teacher's status as a religious objector and confiscated his entire dues payment for the union.
- In Alaska, union officials diverted the dues of an objecting teacher to a women's center that provides abortion, despite the teacher's stated opposition to abortion.
- When a school psychologist transferred school districts, the Ohio statewide NEA affiliate refused to accommodate her religious beliefs even though the union had lost a legal battle with her over the same issue in her previous school district.
- Also in Ohio, union officials attempted to circumvent the law by allowing teachers to donate their money only to organizations that were run or maintained by the teachers union.
- Union officials threatened another Ohio teacher with legal action after she filed her religious objections and voiced her opposition to the union's support for publicly funded abortions.
The tactics listed above merely are the tip of the iceberg. They are intended to harass and intimidate teachers who dare to challenge the NEA, and they send a clear message to anyone thinking of speaking out against the teachers union.
This is why the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation receives hundreds of phone calls and e-mails every year from employees of religious faith who suffer harassment at the hands of NEA officials.
But for every teacher who has the courage to come forward and challenge the NEA's decision to seize their dues money that supports a radical social agenda, it is safe to assume that there are countless other educators who suffer in silence. Because the laws of most states give union officials tremendous power over the jobs of teachers, it should come as no surprise that teachers think twice before stepping forward to assert their rights in the face of a hostile union.
The sad fact is that in too many school districts across the country, abortion and condoms have replaced the three R's of education. Increasingly, teachers, parents and concerned citizens are discovering that the NEA is not about reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic. It actually is one of the most powerful forces in today's political system, and its agenda is shockingly far left. Here are some of the NEA's 2000-2001 resolutions and the specific policy goals for which they are forcing teachers to pay:
- The NEA supports family planning, including the right to reproductive freedom. The association urges the government to give high priority to making available all methods of family planning to women and men unable to take advantage of private facilities.
- The association also urges the implementation of community-operated, school-based, family-planning clinics that will provide intensive counseling by trained personnel.
- The association also believes that to facilitate the realization of human potential, it is the right of every individual to live in an environment of freely available information and knowledge about sexuality. The association encourages affiliates and members to support appropriately established sex-education programs. Such programs should include information on sexual abstinence, birth control and family planning, and diversity of culture and sexual orientation.
- The association also believes that, for students who are struggling with their sexual/gender orientation, every school district and educational institution should provide counseling services and programs.
The NEA likewise has staked out positions supporting statehood for Puerto Rico and Washington, as well as gun control, a nuclear freeze and a world court. Regardless of what one thinks about the merit of each of the NEA's positions, most Americans agree that no one should be compelled to support an agenda they abhor.
Why would an organization that claims to represent the best interests of all teachers become involved in hot-button social issues that are clearly divisive and, for many educators, patently offensive? Simple: The NEA's behavior proves that it is not in business to educate kids. Its primary goal is to impose its political agenda.
Those seeking reforms in the educational system are obliged to look squarely at the power of teacher unions and to recognize that the source of the NEA's power is its government-granted privileges. It is time to rethink a labor policy that hands so much power and privilege to union officials who seem to be no more than political hacks. Today, 33 states grant public-sector union officials the power of "exclusive representation" ? more accurately called "the monopoly bargaining privilege." And most of these state laws also establish compulsory union dues.
These privileges hand the union hierarchy control over everything that goes on in the school ? from compensation and assignments given to individual teachers to curriculum, textbooks and standards, as well as which teachers get promoted. As a result, the radical union hierarchy permanently remains in the driver's seat.
Those educators who support the union's agenda often are the ones who get rewarded with promotions, both within the union structure and on the job, while those teachers who are morally offended by the NEA's positions more frequently are shoved aside. Because the union brass hold all the cards in the workplace, vocalizing dissent requires real courage.
As more media attention has been paid to this subject, some members of Congress have called for congressional hearings into the NEA's harassment and discrimination against teachers with religious objections to union policies. Despite their good intentions, investigations and hearings that specifically look into the NEA and its discrimination against religious objectors only would be focusing on one small part of a much larger problem.
As long as teachers or other employees are forced financially to support a union as a condition of employment, this type of abuse will continue to occur. The only way to eliminate this problem in education ? and every other profession ? is for unions to release employees from the grip of their government-imposed compulsory unionism.
Under the protection of right-to-work laws or court rulings that overturn compulsory unionism, teachers who do not want to support the union, based on religious or any other grounds, could not be forced to do so. This would make it possible for people of faith such as Dennis Robey to continue working without compromising their principles or living with constant harassment.
So why are teachers-union officials so adamantly opposed to voluntary unionism? Perhaps they have known all along that few teachers would join the union if they knew the ugly truth about the NEA's agenda.
Gleason is vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in Washington, a nonprofit organization providing free legal aid to employees whose civil rights have been violated by union abuses.
YES: The record shows that NEA treats all teachers both union and nonunion with respect.
By Bob Chase
Truth is the first victim in war and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is at war with the National Education Association (NEA). Its attorneys are, of necessity, excruciatingly precise in their guidance to potential religious objectors, but that apparently does not bind the hands of those who write their press releases.
The issue at stake is over the procedures covering individuals who refuse to pay a "fair share" or "agency fee" to their employee representative. Since the law requires that unions represent all individuals covered in a collectively bargained agreement whether they are members or not, the law gives unions and their employers the right to negotiate fair-share agreements whereby nonmembers pay the costs of their representation. It is a time-honored and balanced approach between rights and responsibilities. Under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, individuals can claim "religious-objector" status, contending that they have sincerely-held religious beliefs that prevent them from supporting or associating with a union. In these cases, an employee can designate that his or her fair-share payments be donated to a charity that has been mutually agreed on by the union and the employee. The provision is invoked rarely and, in the vast majority of cases, the union and the employee are able to reach an accommodation without difficulty.
But in a classic case of making a mountain out of a molehill, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation would have people believe this is the second inquisition.
The information that the foundation's counselors advise potential religious objectors to provide goes far beyond what most NEA state affiliates require. Certainly it goes beyond what was required in Ohio. But that does not prevent the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation media-relations staff from declaring that "union officials demanded that every year [a religious objector in Ohio] must describe, in detail, his deeply held religious views, fill out a lengthy and invasive form, [with] probing personal questions about his relationship with God." Stefan Gleason characterizes this as "systematically persecuting people of faith."
By comparison, the following is an excerpt from "An Employee's Guide to Union Dues and Religious Do Nots" published by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation: "A good format for the letter [notifying a union of one's desire to be designated a religious objector] is to first describe the offending work requirement. Next describe your religious beliefs in detail. If your beliefs are based on the Bible, you should cite the specific chapter(s) and verse(s) that form the basis for your beliefs. If your beliefs are based on some other authority, such as a church doctrine, then recite the authority in some detail. This is no time to be shy about telling others about your beliefs."
Persecution? The form used by the Ohio Education Association to determine whether a religious objector has a legitimate case under the law is less probing, less intrusive and far shorter than the information the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation advises individuals to provide.
The foundation's news release is filled with a host of other fabrications. It alleges that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) "will prosecute the National Education Association (NEA), if the union does not stop forcing teachers to endure annually a burdensome and invasive process."
Two observations are in order. First, the EEOC calls on the parties to reach an accommodation through conciliation, and there is every reason to believe that our affiliate and the objector can reach an accommodation. Second, the finding by the EEOC found nothing burdensome or invasive about the form itself. It merely said that the annual requirement to document one's religious belief was burdensome.
According to the EEOC determination, "Once an individual is on record that he/she objects to paying the 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."
That is a far cry from the characterization by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation as an "illegal scheme." Moreover, the Ohio Education Association ended its policy of requiring employees annually to renew their religious objections before this charge was filed.
Should one allow the facts to get in the way of a great line, especially if it pushes all the hot buttons? Perhaps, simply for the sake of consistency, an organization that purports to represent the interests of people of faith should not bear false witness against its neighbors. The NEA believes in a pluralistic society and supports free speech, religious liberty and the other rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
We strongly support Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which protects against discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Our affiliates accommodate the handful of religious objectors who request that fair-share payments for representation be donated to charities and demonstrate that, as the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation advises, it is an authentic religious objection, not simply a disagreement with the union.
Moreover, we are active in efforts to protect and promote religious freedom. The NEA was one of many partners that endorsed A Teachers' Guide to Religion in the Public Schools (available at the U.S. Department of Education's Website at www.ed.gov/inits/religionandschools/publications.html). The guide provides helpful information about appropriate and constitutionally protected kinds of religious instruction and practice in the public schools. We share this guide and other related information with our affiliates and members on an ongoing basis.
As the guide points out, public schools are not "religion-free" zones; rather, they are "places where religion and religious conviction are treated with fairness and respect." The guide details a number of ways that teaching about religion and individual practices are treated with fairness and respect in America's public schools, and the NEA endorses these:
- It is constitutional to teach about religion. Religion must be taught objectively and neutrally. The purpose of public schools is to educate students about a variety of religious traditions, not to indoctrinate them into any tradition.
- In teaching about religion, it is important to follow certain guidelines. The school strives for students' awareness of religion but does not press for student acceptance of any religion. The school may expose students to a diversity of religious views but may not impose any particular view.
- Teachers, students and other school employees may pray at school, but teachers do not have the right to pray with students during the school day. A group of teachers could, however, also meet for prayer or scriptural study in the faculty lounge during their free time.
- Students have the right to pray individually or in groups or to discuss their religious views with their peers so long as they are not disruptive. The right to pray does not include the right to compel other students to listen or participate.
- Students may express their beliefs about religion in the form of homework, artwork and other written and oral assignments free of discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. The NEA also has endorsed and promoted other guidance documents, including The Bible and Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide (available on the Internet at www.freedomforum.org/publications/first/BibleAndPublicSchools/bibleguidereprintnographics.pdf).
In many other ways the NEA, its state/local affiliates and its members are engaged in ongoing efforts to teach and model respect for others and respect for the law. We provide guidance to our members on how to make schools safer in programs such as our "Bullying Awareness Campaign," a nationwide effort to encourage school districts to establish programs that reduce and eventually eradicate bullying. Our affiliates work with school districts to strengthen school codes of conduct and communicate them to students and parents. And our affiliates work with schools to teach respect and responsibility through programs such as conflict resolution and peer mediation.
Presented with the facts, a reasonable person will see that the allegations of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation are the result of its own misunderstanding of a fine point of the law, not a deliberate attempt by the NEA or any of its affiliates to deny anyone his or her rights.
The truth doesn't always make great copy, but the reality is this: The NEA and its affiliates believe all students, teachers, education-support professionals, parents and others in the school community should be treated with respect.
Bob Chase is the president of the 2.7 million-member National Education Association teachers union and the author of the book, The New Public School Parent: How to Get the Best Education for Your Child.
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