Contraceptive Ruling An 'Affront' to 'People of Faith,' Group Says

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:21 PM EDT

( - A pro-life group is blasting the California Supreme Court's decision that Catholic Charities must provide access to contraception as part of employee healthcare benefits. The Women's Contraceptive Equity Act of 2000 requires all health care plans including prescription drug benefits to include contraceptive coverage.

The Catholic Charities is not a religious employer, the court ruled 6-1 Monday, because it offers secular services like counseling, low-income housing and immigration services to those of all faiths, without preaching Catholic values.

Joseph M. Starrs, director of American Life League's Crusade for the Defense of our Catholic Church, called the ruling "an outrageous affront to all people of faith and a clear violation of the free exercise of religion."

"Justice Janice Roger Brown - the lone dissenter - clearly identified the real agenda behind this decision when she wrote, 'The government is not accidentally or incidentally interfering with religious practice; it is doing so willfully by making a judgment about what is or is not a religion,' Starrs said in a statement.

"It seems that the state of California is intent on convincing the world that up is down, that wrong is right," he said. "It seeks to recognize rights where they don't exist, while usurping the constitutional right of Catholic Californians to the free exercise of religion.

Starrs said California's Catholic bishops have a "moral responsibility" to speak out against the ruling.

"A tepid or lackluster response will only serve to further erode the rights of the Catholic Church and all religious institutions in the state. We call on all the Catholic bishops in California to stand firm against this unjust and immoral ruling," he added.

"There are many ways the bishops can oppose the law which this ruling upholds," Starrs said. "They could simply ignore it as an act of civil disobedience; they could counter this act by withholding the countless services they offer to state residents or they could simply stop offering any prescription medical benefit to their employees.

"Unfortunately, the net effect of the state supreme court's decision is to exact a punishment on all Californians," he said.

"Through its hospitals, schools, soup kitchens, AIDS ministries and countless other outreaches, the Catholic Church has provided important services to millions of Californians," Starrs added.

"It has also strengthened the state's economy by providing a stable work environment for countless residents. It would be a sad day for all Californians if this decision forced the bishops to cease offering any of these programs," he said.

"Until the state supreme court realizes that it has no right to force its morality of secular humanism onto the Catholic Church, we hope the bishops will speak and act in a united voice that proclaims the Gospel of Life and defends the Body of Christ," Starrs concluded.

But Catholics for a Free Choice, an abortion rights group, applauded the ruling, calling it "right for women" and "an important step in acknowledging women's right to equal access to the health care services they need."

"We hope the sound decision made today will be reflected throughout the country as other state courts are faced with similar erroneous claims," said Jon O'Brien, vice president of Catholics for a Free Choice.

"Hopefully this decision will bring proper scrutiny on Catholic healthcare facilities that seek to circumvent state laws and deny women access to healthcare that they are legally entitled to. This decision is particularly important to economically challenged women and men who rely on basic healthcare in hospitals. Justice has been served," O'Brien said.

"In pursuing its claim, Catholic Charities of Sacramento was resisting its legal obligation to provide contraceptive coverage to its employees while challenging the law because it exempts only 'religious employers,' identified as those who meet the IRS definition of 'church' and who function primarily to promote their religion and to serve those of the same faith," he said.

"As CFFC has continuously pointed out through this legal process, Catholic Charities of Sacramento has no legal right to claim an exemption and no moral right to claim the law violates its religious freedom," O'Brien said.

"Catholic Charities is not a 'religious employer,' as it is primarily a welfare agency employing and serving many non-Catholics. Agencies that receive government funding, provide services to the general public, and employ people of all faiths should not be legally entitled to religious exemptions," he added.

"Catholic Charities of Sacramento's claim that forcing it to comply with the law would violate its religious freedom because the ban on contraception is unequivocal is baseless," O'Brien said.

"Under Catholic tradition and teaching, Catholics may dissent from the ban on contraceptives in good faith, and the vast majority of Catholics do. Catholic Charities of Sacramento claims a constitutional right to religious liberty, while denying women's moral and constitutional right to assert control over their own bodies," he concluded.

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