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Charity Lost

In this section of our July-August 2004 issue, we reported on the legal maneuverings of Catholic Charities against the Women’s Contraception Equity Act (WCEA), a California law that requires all businesses which provide health care coverage for employees to cover the cost of prescription contraceptives for female employees (see “Charity Case,” pp. 17-21).

In an effort to avoid providing such coverage, Catholic Charities took to the Courts, seeking to repeal the WCEA as “unconstitutional.” Catholic Charities lost its case in both the California Appellate Court and in the California Supreme Court, both of which agreed that Catholic Charities does not qualify as a “religious employer” as defined in an exemption to the WCEA. As we noted in our July-August New Oxford Note, Catholic Charities was “preparing to take its case to the U.S. Supreme Court,” where, we predicted, “it will likely suffer its third and final defeat.”

Said and done. On October 4, 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out Catholic Charities’ appeal challenging the constitutionality of the WCEA. Strike three, you’re out.

In light of its successive legal failures, the leadership of Catholic Charities must make a profound decision regarding the organization’s future direction — a decision which will likely impact a great many self-styled “Catholic” charitable organizations, notably Catholic hospitals. Indeed, its legal failures present Catholic Charities with a golden opportunity.

For an organization to qualify for an exemption as a “religious employer” under the WCEA, it must satisfy four criteria. A “religious employer” must (1) inculcate religious values, (2) primarily employ persons who share its faith, (3) primarily serve people of its own faith, and (4) meet the specific requirements of a nonprofit organization under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. Catholic Charities — by its own admission — met a total of none of these four qualifications.

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