Ninth Circuit Side with Union in Religion-Dues Suit

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has ruled Mar. 22 that Cal. professors may not  challenge the new state law that allows state and union officials to determine the acceptability of religious beliefs when employees seek an exemption  from the requirement to pay union dues.  The Cal. Faculty Ass’n initially sent a notice to 14,000 non-union  professors that a religious accommodation could be obtained only if they were a member of an approved  church – as stated in the statute. But later, CFA attorneys filed a sworn declaration with the court that despite its previous statements to 14,000 professors, the CFA union does not apply the statute as actually  written – or as advertised to this very day on the  union’s web site. Based on that declaration filed  with the court only, the court ruled that the professors do not have standing to challenge the law even if it violates employees’ freedom of association under the First Amendment.

“It is outrageous that union officials and state bureaucrats try to play God and decide which religions are approved and which are not,” said Stefan Gleason of the Nat’l Right to Work Legal Def. Fdn. “If someone has a sincere  religious objection to supporting a union thought to  be immoral, his or her rights should be respected.”

NRTWLDF attorneys filed the class-action suit in Feb. 2000  against CFA and the State of Cal. on behalf of 14,000 non-union Cal. State Univ. professors who must now pay $8.5 million annually in forced dues seized under a sweeping law  signed by Cal. Gov. Gray Davis (D) in 1999.

The lead plaintiff, Dr. Charles Baird, distinguished professor of economics at CSU Hayward and a practicing Roman Catholic, had filed an objection to supporting CFA since his religious views did not allow him to support an organization that promotes conflict and uses coercion to achieve its goals. But the union’s officials denied his objection.  Meanwhile, Baird filed a charge at the Equal Employment Opportunity Comm’n in which the EEOC issued a decision finding cause to believe that  the union had not properly accommodated Baird’s religious beliefs. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employees who have a sincere religious objection to supporting a union – regardless of church affiliation – may divert their compulsory union dues to a charity instead. The plaintiffs are considering an appeal of the Ninth Circuit’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. [NRTWLDF 3/22/02]