News Story

Non-Christians Given 'Special Consideration' In Union Teacher Contract

Ferndale Public Schools provision could violate state and federal laws

The teachers union contract in Ferndale Public Schools in Oakland County gives "special consideration" to applicants who are of "the non-Christian faith."

Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment and public services on the basis of religion. The state constitution says it, "shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting." And the Federal Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on religion.

The contract ran from 2011 to 2012 but was extended to 2017. The teachers belong to the Ferndale Education Association, a division of the Michigan Education Association.

Regarding promotion to a vacant position, it states on page 22:

Should there be two (2) or more of these applicants with equal qualifications for the position and one (1) or more of these applicants with equal qualifications is a current employee, the current employee with the greatest seniority shall be assigned. Special consideration shall be given to women and/or minority defined as: Native American, Asian American, Latino, African American and those of the non-Christian faith. However, in all appointments to vacant positions, the Board's decision shall be final.

Earlier in the contract is a "no discrimination clause" that states no employee can be discriminated against based on their religion.

Ferndale Superintendent Gary Meier, Board President Jim O'Donnell, and MEA UniServ director Troy Scott did not return several requests for comment.

"This just strikes me as so un-American that they can put in open language for people to see that they are going to be discriminating against Christians," said Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor. "Why would they be discriminating against Christians? They are not supposed to be discriminating against people for their religious beliefs. It's outrageous. And I believe it's unconstitutional."

Thompson also wondered why a public school district was tracking the religious beliefs of employees.

"Now, they are going to ask people, 'Are you a Christian?' " Thompson said. "Are people going to hide their faith so they can get a promotion? There is a subtle persecution [here] of Christians."

Rana Elmir, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said she couldn't speak to the specifics highlighted in the contract "because it comes down to how it is implemented."

"There's nothing wrong with encouraging people from diverse faiths to apply for a position. In fact, doing so recognizes that our classrooms and communities are diverse," Elmir said. "However, public schools themselves should not be in the business of promoting particular religious beliefs or religious activities over others and they should protect children from being coerced to accept religious or anti-religious beliefs."

A spokeswoman from Ferndale Public Schools, who responded after the story's original posting, said the district does not discriminate when hiring.

"The district appreciates your bringing this antiquated language to our attention. The timing is perfect since Ferndale Public Schools just completed bargaining and, with the advice of our legal counsel and approval from the district EA (union) representative, this language will be deleted from new contracts," said Shelley Yorke Rose, a spokeswoman for the district. "Unfortunately, there are no employees in the district who have been here long enough to explain the origins of the language, which we estimate to have been inserted between 1976-79.

"Please note that the district does not discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion or other related issues," she said.

A recent study from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy showed that about 60 percent of public school union contracts in Michigan had illegal provisions. Michigan Capitol Confidential has reported on some of the most egregious. For example, in 2012, Capitol Confidential reported on a teachers union contract in Bay City that had provisions allowing teachers to be drunk and on drugs several times before being fired.

(Editor's note: This story has been updated since its original posting. Ferndale Public Schools replied with a comment this afternoon.)

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.