Skip to content

When a Catholic Institution Is Told to Pay for Contraception

SACRAMENTO, California, MARCH 24, 2004 (Zenit) - In an unprecedented decision that could affect hundreds of Catholic institutions, the California Supreme Court recently ruled that Catholic Charities must include contraceptive coverage in its insurance plan for employees.

Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference , shared how the ruling will affect Catholic organizations, what Catholic Charities might do next, and why he thinks that the court shirked its responsibility in its decision.

Q: What could this ruling mean for other Church organizations, especially Catholic hospitals?

Dolejsi: The Catholic Charities case is the first time anyone can find in legal research where a state has compelled a religious entity to actually fund something to which its has a moral objection. I think it is important to emphasize that there were and are ways for society to accomplish its goals without infringing on the religious freedom of others. Such a compromise was worked out prior to the passage of this law and could be revisited again.

To date, other religious organizations have already been affected by similar rulings. Beginning January 1, 2000, unless an institution met the very narrow definition of a religious organization, it could not purchase prescription drug coverage that did not contain contraceptives in its formulary.

A "religious employer" is defined as an entity for which each of the following is true: The inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the entity; the entity primarily employs persons who share the religious tenets of the entity; the entity serves primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the entity; and the entity is a nonprofit organization according to certain state and federal tax codes.

That means Catholic social services, Catholic health care and Catholic institutions of higher education were defined as "secular" and subject to the contraceptive mandate.

The bishops, realizing the enormity of this breach of religious freedom, supported Catholic Charities of Sacramento Incorporated as the plaintiff in the effort to get the Women's Contraceptive Equity Act [WCEA] enjoined.

Since 2000, those impacted Catholic institutions have continued to offer their employees prescription-drug coverage.

In a few cases, the insurance company was willing to practice "civil disobedience" and provide a contraceptive-free drug plan. In most cases, the Catholic institutions, unwilling to drop all coverage for pharmaceuticals, have provided the mandated plan with the caveat that it was "under duress."

Q: Some commentators have noted that Catholic Charities does not demand that its workers are Catholic or share the Church's beliefs, and that if the organization had a more religious character it would have had a much greater chance of winning the case. Wouldn't it be better for a Catholic organization to retain a specifically religious nature -- otherwise, how is it different from any other philanthropic group?

Dolejsi: Catholic social services, health care and higher education apply for and receive federal and state funds that are used to enhance their mission of serving those who are in need. Catholic institutions have been pleased to partner with the government in this manner.

Catholic social and health care institutions have never limited their services or job opportunities to Catholics, nor have they made the reason for their existence to "inculcate" the faith.

In fact, they would not be able to access those government funds -- which have a huge multiplier effect in serving the wider community -- if they turned inward in order to meet the California Legislature's definition of a religious organization.

In addition, historically, government has contracted with Catholic institutions that can more efficiently and more compassionately deliver the needed services.

Up until the passage of the WCEA, "conscience clauses" were respectfully and readily available for conflicts between government policy and religious teaching, that is, for performing abortions in Catholic hospitals and for covering contraceptives, in vitro fertilization and sterilization in employee health plans.

Q: How will this court decision affect similar cases in other states?

Dolejsi: Laws similar to the WCEA have been passed in about 20 states. The New York law, virtually identical to California's mandate, has been challenged by the Catholic bishops in their state courts.

It is important to note that these laws were the result of concerted effort on the part of various women's groups and, in particular, the Reproductive Freedom Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is committed to advancing "reproductive rights."

Their lawyers developed the language used by the California Legislature -- and many other states -- to so narrowly define a religious organization as to "gerrymander" out Catholic social services, health care and institutions of higher education.

In addition, they are bent on undermining the long-standing respect shown to religion by relentlessly and publicly re-labeling "conscience clauses" as "refusal clauses."

Q: The charity argued unsuccessfully that it should be exempted from state law along with the Catholic Church. What does this ruling say for the future of Church-state relations and the freedom of religious practice and expression?

Dolejsi: The decision is both disappointing and alarming, not to say ironic. In fact there is a supreme irony at work here in the state of California.

In a July 2003 decision, U.S. District Judge Napoleon Jones Jr. ruled that a lease between the city of San Diego and the Boy Scouts violated the constitutional separation of church and state because there was "overwhelming and uncontradicted evidence" showing that the Boy Scouts of America is a religious organization.

Yet in its March 1, 2004, decision, the California Supreme Court ruled that "Catholic Charities does not qualify as a 'religious employer' under the WCEA because it does not meet any of the [state Legislature's crafted] definition's four criteria."

Making jurisprudence even more puzzling in California, the same court that rendered the Charities decision ruled in 1998 that Mercy Healthcare [a Catholic institution] was a religious organization and was therefore excluded from the binding rules of the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

And even more recently, in May 2002, that same court ruled that Catholic Healthcare West was a religious organization, concluding that "there is also a ... policy rooted in the free exercise of religion clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as the comparable California constitutional right that permits religious organizations to define themselves and their religious message."

What is also troubling about the Charities decision is that the state Supreme Court shirked its responsibility to construe the affirmative religious liberty guarantee of the California Constitution, dismissing that issue by saying "in a case that truly required us to do so, we should not hesitate to exercise our responsibility and final authority to declare the scope and proper interpretation of the California Constitution's free exercise clause (Article I, Section 4). Here, however, we need not do so because Catholic Charities challenge to the WCEA fails in any event."

The court conveniently found that Charities was not a religious organization by virtue of the Legislature's definition -- the very definition Catholic Charities had challenged on the basis of the California Constitution's guarantee of religious liberty and the free exercise thereof -- so the court it did not truly grapple with the violation of Charities' religious freedom.

Q: Will Catholic Charities seek an appeal? What are the chances of overturning this ruling?

Dolejsi: The case has exhausted the judicial appeals in the state of California. Catholic Charities has 90 days from March 1, 2004, the date the ruling was issued, to seek the intervention of the United States Supreme Court.

The California Conference of Catholic Bishops will make that decision in consultation with their attorneys and with attorneys for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Because the California decision has nationwide significance and was based in large part on federal law, there is a reasonable chance that the case will interest the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears fewer than 100 cases per year. That remains to be seen.


Catholic Online CA, US
Catholic Online - Publisher, 661 869-1000



Contraceptive, Family, Sexual, Condoms, STD

More Catholic PRWire

Showing 1 - 50 of 4,718

A Recession Antidote
Randy Hain

Monaco & The Vatican: Monaco's Grace Kelly Exhibit to Rome--A Review of Monegasque-Holy See Diplomatic History
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

The Why of Jesus' Death: A Pauline Perspective
Jerom Paul

A Royal Betrayal: Catholic Monaco Liberalizes Abortion
Dna. Maria St.Catherine De Grace Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

Embrace every moment as sacred time
Mary Regina Morrell

My Dad
JoMarie Grinkiewicz

Letting go is simple wisdom with divine potential
Mary Regina Morrell

Father Lombardi's Address on Catholic Media
Catholic Online

Pope's Words to Pontifical Latin American College
Catholic Online

Prelate: Genetics Needs a Conscience
Catholic Online

State Aid for Catholic Schools: Help or Hindrance?
Catholic Online

Scorsese Planning Movie on Japanese Martyrs
Catholic Online

2 Nuns Kidnapped in Kenya Set Free
Catholic Online

Holy See-Israel Negotiation Moves Forward
Catholic Online

Franchising to Evangelize
Catholic Online

Catholics Decry Anti-Christianity in Israel
Catholic Online

Pope and Gordon Brown Meet About Development Aid
Catholic Online

Pontiff Backs Latin America's Continental Mission
Catholic Online

Cardinal Warns Against Anti-Catholic Education
Catholic Online

Full Circle
Robert Gieb

Three words to a deeper faith
Paul Sposite

Relections for Lent 2009
chris anthony

Wisdom lies beyond the surface of life
Mary Regina Morrell

World Food Program Director on Lent
Catholic Online

Moral Clarity

Pope's Lenten Message for 2009
Catholic Online

A Prayer for Monaco: Remembering the Faith Legacy of Prince Rainier III & Princess Grace and Contemplating the Moral Challenges of Prince Albert II
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe

Keeping a Lid on Permissiveness
Sally Connolly

Glimpse of Me
Sarah Reinhard

The 3 stages of life
Michele Szekely

Sex and the Married Woman
Cheryl Dickow

A Catholic Woman Returns to the Church
Cheryl Dickow

Modernity & Morality
Dan Shea

Just a Minute
Sarah Reinhard

Catholic identity ... triumphant reemergence!
Hugh McNichol

Edging God Out
Paul Sposite

Burying a St. Joseph Statue
Cheryl Dickow

George Bush Speaks on Papal Visit
Catholic Online

Sometimes moving forward means moving the canoe
Mary Regina Morrell

Action Changes Things: Teaching our Kids about Community Service
Lisa Hendey

Easter... A Way of Life
Paul Spoisite

Papal initiative...peace and harmony!
Hugh McNichol

Proclaim the mysteries of the Resurrection!
Hugh McNichol

Jerusalem Patriarch's Easter Message
Catholic Online

Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa
Catholic Online

Papal Address at the End of the Way of the Cross
Catholic Online

Cardinal Zen's Meditations for Via Crucis
Catholic Online

Interview With Vatican Aide on Jewish-Catholic Relations
Catholic Online

Pope Benedict XVI On the Easter Triduum
Catholic Online

Holy Saturday...anticipation!
Hugh McNichol

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

The California Network
Inspiring streaming service

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Catholic Online Singles
Safe, secure Catholic dating

The California Studios
World-class post production service

Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

School Teachers
Teacher lesson plans & resources

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.