At meeting, NEA declines to remain neutral on abortion
Also during its annual meeting in San Diego July 1-6, the NEA went on record as supporting laws legalizing civil unions and "gay marriage" -- it said either are acceptable -- and it backed efforts to repeal federal legislation that "discriminates" against same-sex couples, which presumably could target the Defense of Marriage Amendment.
The proposed bylaw amendment regarding abortion would have invalidated NEA Resolution I-16 on family planning, which says NEA "supports family planning, including the right to reproductive freedom."
The defeated proposal said the NEA takes "no position" on the issues of abortion and family planning. It would have prohibited the NEA from filing a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in litigation seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade, and it would have kept the NEA from "lobbying for or against legislation regarding the dissemination of birth control information, the funding of birth control procedures, or the sale of birth control products."
"Right now they say they have a neutral position on abortion, which means let the woman choose," Jeralee Smith, cofounder of the Conservative Educators Caucus within the NEA, told Baptist Press.
"'No position' means that they could be sued if there was any evidence that they were spending any money or making any effort to help the Roe v. Wade decision. So 'no position' is a much stronger retreat from the current position," she said.
Debate over the issue was significant, Smith said, and a representative from the conservative caucus appealed to the union's local leaders who have been losing members who opt out as religious objectors.
"He said the union just shouldn't be involved in this, and there were a lot of people who agreed with him," Smith said of the delegate.
In a ballot vote, 61 percent were against the bylaw amendment and 39 percent were for it in what Smith described as a no-win situation for the liberal NEA leadership.
"If they had voted for it, they wouldn't have been able to spend any money on abortion," she said. "But since they voted against it, it's a much clearer case for anyone who wants religious accommodation, that the union supports abortion."
Teachers who have religious objections to paying NEA dues -- which can be used to fund the pro-choice and homosexual agendas -- have the right in some states to give money to a charity instead, Smith said. Information is available from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation at nrtw.org.
"People don't realize -- because they're told otherwise -- that they have a right to get out of the union," Smith said.
A loss of membership dues also played into the discussion over "gay marriage" when one state leader got up and said he's a liberal who supports "gay rights" but doesn't believe the NEA should be involved in the issue because they're losing members over it.
Smith said the executive committee, one of NEA's two top decision-making bodies, drafted the same-sex proposal because the committee expected proposals to come from the delegates on the floor and it wanted to preempt them with language that wouldn't be as divisive.
At previous meetings, the NEA has supported "obtaining, preserving, and strengthening basic civil and human rights under law" and specifically called for "passage of a federal statute prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression."
By voice vote delegates in San Diego adopted the following action plan July 3:
-- "NEA will support its affiliates seeking to enact state legislation that guarantees to same-sex couples the right to enter into a legally recognized relationship pursuant to which they have the same rights and benefits as similarly-situated heterosexual couples, including, without limitation, rights and benefits with regard to medical decisions, taxes, inheritance, adoption and immigration.
-- "NEA does not believe that a single term must be used to designate this legally recognized 'equal treatment' relationship, and recommends that each state decide for itself whether 'marriage,' 'civil union,' 'domestic partnership,' or some other term is most appropriate based upon the cultural, social, and religious values of its citizenry.
-- "NEA will support its affiliates in opposing state constitutional and/or statutory provisions that could have the effect of prohibiting the state and its political subdivisions from providing the same rights and benefits to same-sex couples as are provided to similarly-situated heterosexual couples.
-- "NEA will take such actions as may be appropriate to support efforts to (a) repeal any federal legislation and/or regulations that discriminate against same-sex couples, and (b) enact federal legislation and/or regulations that treat same-sex couples and similarly-situated heterosexual couples equally with regard to social security, health care, taxation, and other federal rights and benefits.
-- "NEA recognizes that the term 'marriage' has religious connotations and that same-sex marriages may not be compatible with the beliefs, values, and/or practices of certain religions. Because of its support for the separation of church and state and the right to religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, NEA supports the right of religious institutions to refuse to perform or recognize same-sex marriages."
The fourth bullet has been interpreted by some conservatives as aiming at the Defense of Marriage Amendment, Smith said. Signed into law in 1996, DOMA gives states the option of refusing to recognize "gay marriage" from other states.
"It was implied at both the state and the federal level that they would be interested in overturning DOMA, but they didn't say that directly. The way they described it, it was pretty clear that's what they had in mind," she told BP.
During discussion preceding the vote, a representative from the gay and lesbian caucus wanted to remove the fifth bullet protecting churches, but "the Representative Assembly very definitely refused to do that," Smith said.
Also during debate, a representative from the conservative caucus spoke against the action plan.
"As soon as she mentioned the words 'marriage should be between a man and a woman,' she got booed," Smith said. "The chair stopped the booing and reminded everybody that in a democracy everyone gets to have their say."
After about five speeches on each side of the issue, the assembly voted to end debate despite 20 or 30 more people lined up to speak on each side, Smith said.
"They did a voice vote and the nays were pretty strong, but you could tell that they weren't winning. It was probably again around that 60/40 split, I would imagine," she said.
NEA's executive committee will monitor the implementation of the action plan on "gay marriage" and will keep NEA affiliates informed of actions taken to achieve its objectives, the organization said.
Smith said the conservative caucus was prepared to speak further against the action plan but didn't get the opportunity.
"People don't recognize that this issue goes way beyond both equality and religious liberty," she said. "It has to do with what the next generation of children will face as far as stability and nurturing.
"The French government, a very secular government, spent a whole year studying it and decided not to grant 'gay marriage' because of the children," Smith said. "Our speech was to get away from the tug-of-war between equality and religious liberty and say it's really all about the kids and can't we all be adults and do what's best for them."
Also of interest, she said, is that for the second year in a row someone from the floor moved that a creation science exhibit not be allowed at the NEA convention.
"It lost again big time," Smith said. "Last year when they brought it up, they wouldn't even allow discussion on it. But this year, they did allow discussion, and there was one lady who got up and said, 'What is this? Christians are now the enemies of the NEA?' Some people clapped. It failed because I think the membership at large believes that people should have their say."
NEA's 3.2 million members work at every level of education, from preschool to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.