Freedom Foundation

Religious Freedom wins in Oregon

Nearly a year ago, Elizabeth Stuckart carefully penned a letter to SEIU 503, pleading a religious accommodation in accordance with her legal rights.

Ms. Stuckart is a state employee in Oregon and a portion of her hard-earned wages were sent to SEIU 503 to support causes she directly opposes as a part of her religious beliefs. She petitioned the union to allow her to forward a dues-equivalent amount to a charity as Oregon law provides.

Unfortunately, SEIU 503 had different plans. Since June 8, 2017, the union has stalled Ms. Stuckart’s request and responded to each letter with a demand for more information. Ms. Stuckart noted in one of her letters, “I feel like a hypocrite giving to the union when too much of the dues support issues that I consider immoral and in conflict with my faith.”

As absurd as SEIU 503’s requests seemed, Ms. Stuckart’s letters included every piece of information that the union demanded, including a notarized statement of her beliefs. Ms. Stuckart selected Marion Polk Food Share, a non-religious, nonprofit organization as her designated charity.

SEIU 503 was still not satisfied. In July 2017, SEIU 503 responded to Ms. Stuckart’s letters stating that the letters did not sufficiently show a correlation between Ms. Stuckart’s religious beliefs and the union dues she is forced to pay.

The union demanded additional information from Ms. Stuckart before it would consider her request.

In September, Ms. Stuckart sent yet another letter to the union, reiterating her beliefs. She explained that “(T)he mere fact that SEIU provides funding to organizations that directly advocate for abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception leaves no doubt that, in practice, the union has aligned itself with causes that violate my beliefs.”

Ms. Stuckart went on to explain that it burdens her to financially support an organization, the union, that advocates for causes that Ms. Stuckart considers immoral.

The union did not respond to Ms. Stuckart’s September 2017 letter.

Freedom Foundation attorney James Abernathy sent a letter to the union on Ms. Stuckart’s behalf in February 2018, demanding SEIU 503 cease violating Ms. Stuckart’s statutory right to become a religious objector. Mr. Abernathy chided, “Ms. Stuckart has the right to define the contours of her religious beliefs … The union may not contest the legitimacy of her beliefs, as Ms. May appeared to do in her July 26, 2017, response letter.”

Shirin Khosravi, staff counsel for SEIU 503, responded, expressing the union’s position in clearer terms: Ms. Stuckart’s request was denied. Ms. Khosravi informed Mr. Abernathy the union was not satisfied with Ms. Stuckart’s explanation of the distress that it causes her to support causes contrary to her religious beliefs.

Mr. Abernathy notified SEIU 503 in April that if it did not comply with Ms. Stuckart’s request, Ms. Stuckart would take legal action.

Finally, on June 6, 2018, the union threw up its hands and gave in. The union declared that Ms. Stuckart may have her religious accommodation and that her dues may be forwarded to a charity, including the dues since her first letter in June 2017.

Ms. Stuckart told the Freedom Foundation, “I appreciate all the hard work you guys have done… the results are obviously fantastic. God bless you all for your hard work… to give people the chance to fight for their freedom. I appreciate that.”

Thanks to the Freedom Foundation, Ms. Stuckart’s hard-earned money is no longer supporting causes that burden her conscience and violate her religious beliefs.