Religion Today is reporting:
Union Told Me to Pay Dues or Change Religion, Teacher Says
Told by a union official to pay forced dues or "change religions," a teacher in southern Ohio is challenging a state law that allows only those public employees who belong to certain denominations the right to claim religious objection to paying union dues. CNSNews.com reports that Carol Katter, a mathematics and language arts instructor in the St. Marys district, filed a federal complaint in the U.S. District Court in Columbus this week over an Ohio law that prevents the lifelong Catholic from diverting her dues from a union she refuses to fund because it supports abortion on demand. The current law states: "Any public employee who is a member of and adheres to established and traditional tenets or teachings of a bona fide religion or religious body which has historically held conscientious objections to joining or financially supporting an employee organization and which is exempt from taxation under the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code shall not be required to join or financially support any employee organization as a condition of employment." The teacher said she had been "shocked" to learn her dues had to go to the OEA [Ohio Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association]. However, she later learned that members of only two religions (Seventh-Day Adventist or a Mennonite) receive the charity exception.
CHT to the reader who e-mailed!
While discussing the situation with an OEA official, Katter "pretty much pleaded with the lady," saying: "I can’t do this. It’s against my belief and my conscience. Isn’t there anything I can do to just give the money to charity?"
The teacher’s request was turned down "basically because I could not come up with proof that my individual church — not the Catholic faith, but my individual church — had a record of anyone having successfully fought a union," she said. "In my little parish church, no one’s ever done this, and that’s what threw it out."
Katter said the union attorney told her she had two choices – pay her dues or "change religions."
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, Gleason said.
To avoid conflict between an employee’s faith and a requirement to pay fees to a union he or she believes to be immoral, the law requires union officials to accommodate the employee – most often by designating a mutually acceptable charity to accept the funds.
[VP of the National Right to Work Foundation Stefan] Gleason added that SERB officials cannot claim ignorance in Katter’s situation. He noted that the state government was involved in a case last year that led a federal judge to issue a decree affirming that all public-sector employees with religious objections to union affiliation could not be forced to pay dues to such organizations.
The ruling was made in a foundation-assisted lawsuit regarding union contracts for state workers. Ohio Environmental Protection Agency employee Glen Greenwood, a Presbyterian, had objected to paying union dues because he believed the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association supported abortion and same-sex marriage.
"I’m hoping that this case will set a precedent so anybody from any religion who has these feelings will not be pressured into compromising their convictions," [Katter] said. "I can’t not do this."
A few thoughts on this story:
First, I’m not a fan of compulsory union membership. I support the right of laborers to organize, but I also support the right of laborers to not organize. Forcing labor to organize distorts the economics of the labor market just as much as prohibiting them from organizing. In principle, they’re the same. When business owners wish to use the law to prohibit their workers from organizing, it’s an attempt by business owners to eliminatekeep individual workers from banding together and exercizing their clout in aggregate. When labor unions wish to use the law to prohibit workers from not joinging the union, it’s an attempt to prevent individual laborers from competing with the union. In both cases, one party (business owners in one case and labor unions in the other) is trying to use the law to eliminate competition for their interests in the labor market.
To see the selfishness of this more clearly, turn the situation around so that it deals with business/consumer relations instead of management/labor relations: Suppose that a business wanted to use the law to prevent customers from organizing a boycott–preventing customers from organizing and using their purchasing power as clout in getting the goods and services it wants. That’s the equivalent of business owners preventing unions from existing. Similarly, suppose that a business wants to use the law to prevent other, competing businesses from springing up; in other words, it wants a monopoly on who will be allowed to provide a particular good or service. That’s the equivalent of labor unions being able to legally mandate membership, so that if you want to provide a particular service (labor), you have to do it only through the monopoly of the union.
In each of these cases, it’s one group trying to use the law to protect its power/money from free competition in the marketplace.
Second, I hope Katter is successful in her action. The idea that you have to be a member of an individual local church that has a history of conscientious objection to union membership is nutty, and I expect that to fall by the wayside.
I’d also like to see her succeed in her quest to strike a blow for religious freedom in general. If she’s not able to get a right-to-work law in her area (which would be preferred), then at least people of all religions should be able to exercise the option of donating their union dues to charity if they can document that their religion would support consientious objection in this case.
Third, I do not think it would be difficult for Katter to establish this in the case of her own Catholic faith. Not only are there existing conscientious objector passages connected with abortion in official Church documents, but I suspect that the Vatican would be quite willing to issue a finding supporting conscientious objection in this case.
A while back they did issue a finding supporting the rights of parents to have their children exempted from mandatory innoculations drawn from immorally-cultivated stem cell lines, and if the request were put to them in the right way, I suspect that they would be most willing to issue a document supporting the right of people to conscientious object when they are being required by law to pay money to unions that promote or support abortion.
Fourth, I’m a little nonplussed about the claim (mentioned in the second link, above) that the Ohio law creates an establishment of religion and thus violates the First Amendment. While I recognize that it creates a more favorable environment to some religions than others, that’s just not what "establishment" means. Ohio hasn’t set up an Official Church of Ohio (which it would have been entitled to do under the Constitution as originally written and interpreted).
Still, we’re dealing with a clear injustice here, and I suspect that Katter will succeed.