Court Strikes Down Ohio Law Forcing Public Employees to Pay Union Dues Unless They Join Certain Religions
**Columbus, OH (June 22, 2007)** — In a victory for employee rights and the freedom of conscience, a St. Marys-area teacher has successfully challenged the constitutionality of a statewide law denying public employees their right to accommodations of religious objections that they have to paying union dues unless the objecting employees belong to certain state-approved religions.
The decision issued by U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost struck down the offending law as a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and permanently enjoined the Ohio State Employment Relations Board (SERB) from further enforcing the law against employees.
With free legal help from National Right to Work Foundation attorneys, Carol Katter, a 21-year veteran teacher in the St. Marys school district, filed the original complaint in January in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio’s Eastern Division against top officials of the SERB for religious discrimination.
In her complaint, Katter informed the Court that, even though she is a lifelong Catholic with religious objections to the union’s agenda, she was denied her right to a religious accommodation. Katter believes that failing to divert her forced dues from the Ohio Education Association (OEA) union to a charity contradicts her beliefs due to the union hierarchy’s position on hot button political issues such as abortion.
Adding insult to injury, an OEA union official told Katter that she must “change religions” to receive a religious accommodation before SERB. Katter’s complaint challenged the state statute as an unconstitutional establishment of religion and an infringement of her religious free exercise rights. Because Judge Frost struck down the statute on Establishment Clause grounds, he did not need to decide the issue of whether the SERB had violated Katter’s free exercise rights.
The ruling in Katter’s case follows another federal court decree issued last fall that re-affirmed that all public sector employees who have sincere religious objections to union affiliation cannot be forced to associate with and pay dues to a union they find objectionable. That decree was in another Foundation-assisted case challenging similar systematic religious discrimination throughout Ohio. However, for technical reasons, Ohio’s SERB itself was not formally bound by that decree even though it was well aware of its existence.
“Carol Katter’s struggle is part of a pattern of OEA union officials’ willingness to trample on the religious beliefs of the very employees they claim to represent just to stuff their pockets with more forced dues,” stated National Right to Work Foundation Vice President Stefan Gleason. “While the ruling expands the rights available to employees of faith, abuses of forced unionism will inevitably continue until Ohio passes a Right to Work law making union membership and dues payment strictly voluntary.”
Katter also filed a related charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against the OEA union, a state affiliate of the National Education Association, challenging an attempt by union officials to divert her forced dues to the local union rather than a charity. Currently the EEOC is still investigating the charge.