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Published: Tuesday, 6/26/2007

Union members can opt out of dues based on religious beliefs


COLUMBUS, Ohio An employee whose religious beliefs conflict with the political positions of their labor union cannot be forced to pay dues, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost s ruling broadens the category of employees who may opt out of unions because of religious beliefs beyond Seventh-day Adventists and Mennonites.

A Roman Catholic teacher who refused to pay dues to the National Education Association, claiming its views on abortion conflict with her own, sued the State Employment Relations Board after the panel ruled against her claim for a religious exemption.

Carol Katter, a teacher in St. Marys in western Ohio, said the union supports abortion rights and she does not. I was not going to give 1 cent to those causes, she told The Columbus Dispatch for a story Tuesday.

The National Right to Work Foundation, which opposes mandatory union membership, funded Katter s legal fight.

In his ruling Thursday, Frost struck down the Ohio law that held only members of religions that historically held conscientious objections to union membership could opt out. The judge said anyone with demonstrated religious beliefs should be exempt from paying dues to unions whose positions they find objectionable.

The law discriminated among religions by recognizing the Seventh-day Adventist and Mennonite objections to joining unions while denying the same right to others, the judge said.

In deciding Katter s case, the State Employment Relations Board was following the state law that defined religious exemptions more narrowly, executive director Arthur Marziale Jr. said.

He said board officials were consulting with their attorneys on whether to appeal the judge s ruling, which also said employees who opt out of unions will have to pay the equivalent of their dues to a qualified non-religious charity. They still will be entitled to the protections of the union, such as collective bargaining.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.

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