A U.S. District Court judge struck down an Ohio law that allowed only those public employees who belong to certain religious denominations the right to claim a religious objection to paying union dues.
The legal challenge was mounted by a teacher in southern Ohio, Carol Katter, who said a union official told her to pay dues or change religions.
"It's wonderful, just wonderful," the math and language arts instructor told Cybercast News Service on Friday, after Judge Gregory Frost issued his decision.
Front struck down Ohio Revised Code section 4117.09(C) as a violation of Katter’s First Amendment rights. He also permanently enjoined the State Employment Relations Board from further enforcing that law.
The law in question stated that any public employee, who was a member of a "bona fide religion or religious body which has historically held conscientious objections to joining or financially supporting an employee organization ... shall not be required to join or financially support any employee organization."
Katter, a lifelong Catholic, had always declined membership in the Ohio Education Association, a state chapter of the National Education Association, because of its position in favor of abortion.
But dues became mandatory last year. When she spoke to the union attorney, she was told her she had two choices - pay her dues or "change religions."
She soon learned that members of the Seventh-day Adventist and Mennonite churches received an exemption, due to their denominations' history of objection to union membership. The exemption was not extended to Catholics.
With free legal assistance from the nonprofit National Right to Work Foundation (NRWF), she filed a federal complaint in the U.S. District Court in Columbus last January. Katter also filed a related charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Stefan Gleason, the NRWF's vice president, praised the judge's ruling as "a victory for employee rights and the freedom of conscience."
Gleason noted that Frost's ruling follows another federal court decision last fall, which 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.
"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," he told Cybercast News.