Catholic Charities Overruled

The problem started in 1999 when the California State Legislature passed a law requiring employers with prescription drug plans to include contraception. The law made an exception for religious organizations “whose purpose is the inculcation of religious values” and which primarily employ and serve “people who share their religious beliefs.”

Catholic Charities, as a social service provider, does not fit into this exemption. It feeds the hungry, houses the homeless, and takes care of the sick, without consideration of their denominational affiliation. Catholic Charities also employs people who can provide the needed care, regardless of their religious convictions.

The legislators of California think that this makes an organization less “religious” than a local parish so they’ve passed a law penalizing a religious organization for its service to and cooperation with people who don’t share its faith.

The penalty? Catholic Charities must now spend its money facilitating an activity that is sinful.

Republican Gov. Pete Wilson evidently recognized the problem and vetoed the bill three times after it was first passed in 1994. Democratic Gov. Gray Davis finally signed the bill in 1999 making the likes of Planned Parenthood extremely happy.

If Catholic Charities had operated according to the Catholic ghetto stereotype, ministering to Catholics only, then the law could not have touched them. But non-Catholics make up the majority of its employees, as well as the majority of the people who receive its services.

I guess the California Legislature would be satisfied if Catholic Charities put up a sign saying, “Soup Kitchen Open to Catholics Only.”

The three-judge panel of the 3rd District Court held that withholding coverage of contraceptives constitutes discrimination against women according to California law. Presiding Justice Arthur G. Scotland wrote, “Requiring the policies to cover prescription contraception methods — so as not to discriminate against women — cannot be said to inhibit religion, even if its parent entity is a

religious organization that believes the use of contraception in a sin.”

How the Justice can maintain that his ruling doesn’t constitute an obstacle to religious liberty is beyond me, but so is his theological excursus on Catholic moral theology: Scotland opined that Catholic Charities was faced with “the dilemma of either refusing to provide health insurance coverage for its employees or facilitating the sin of contraception, both of which would violate its religious beliefs.”

There you have it: Since the sins of not providing health insurance and practicing contraception are equal in the eyes of Justice Scotland then Catholic Charities might as well pay for contraceptives.

I suppose Catholics should be thankful to Bishop — oops, I mean Justice — Scotland for clarifying our religious obligations.

James Sweeney, the attorney for Catholic Charities, has not announced whether or not he will seek an appeal. It seems to me that the organization has no choice — the principle of religious liberty must win out over shallow laws and legal opinions.

(Deal Hudson is editor and publisher of CRISIS, America's fastest growing Catholic magazine. He is also an advisor to President Bush. You can reach Deal at

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