Charity Case

July-August 2004

Looks like the jig is up. Catholic Charities just took another one in the gut. In a near-unanimous decision handed down on March 1, 2004, the California Supreme Court affirmed, in a 6-1 vote, the constitutionality of the Women’s Contraceptive Equity Act and declared that Catholic Charities must abide by that law. The Women’s Contraceptive Equity Act (WCEA) requires that any business in California that provides health insurance to its employees must include coverage for prescription contraceptives for its female employees. (The law was written to combat “discrimination” — here perceived to be the “unfair” burden on women of paying for contraception.)

The Supreme Court’s decision came about because Catholic Charities had appealed an identical decision issued by the California Appellate Court in 2001. The Appellate Court’s decision was the result of a complaint brought by Catholic Charities of Sacramento, a West Coast wing of Catholic Charities USA, declaring that the WCEA violates its “religious freedom” and is therefore unconstitutional.

Basically, the California Supreme Court seconded the Appellate Court’s decision rejecting Catholic Charities’ motion for an injunction against the WCEA, handing Catholic Charities its second straight court defeat.

When the WCEA was winding its way through the legislature in 1999 (it was introduced by Democratic State Senator Jackie Speier, a self-proclaimed “Catholic”), the California Catholic Conference lobbied for the inclusion of an addendum to that bill that would exempt “religious employers” from providing such coverage, if to do so would be “contrary to the religious employer’s religious tenets.” When the WCEA was signed into law, by then-Governor Gray Davis (another self-proclaimed “Catholic”), the addendum was included. The addendum defined a “religious employer” as “an entity for which each of the following is true: (A) The inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the entity. (B) The entity primarily employs persons who share the religious tenets of the entity. (C) The entity serves primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the entity. (D) The entity is a nonprofit organization as described in…the Internal Revenue Service Code of 1986…,” which reads, “churches, their auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches…and the exclusively religious activities of any religious order.”

Catholic Charities, in its corporate code, describes itself as “an organ of the Roman Catholic Church” operating “in connection with the Roman Catholic Bishop of Sacramento,” that “offers a multitude of social services and private welfare programs to the general public, as part of the social justice ministry of the Roman Catholic Church.” These services and programs include “providing immigrant resettlement programs, elder care, counseling, food, clothing and affordable housing for the poor and needy, housing and vocational training of the developmentally disabled and the like.” Good and necessary activities all — noble, even. But compare Catholic Charities’ description of itself with the WCEA’s definition of a religious employer, points (A) through (D) above. Doesn’t jibe, does it?

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New Oxford Notes: July-August 2004

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