California Supreme Court: "Secular purpose" of Catholic Charities means it must provide birth control despite church objections
A word of warning: Engage in social ministry without discrimination and you may be giving up your religious rights. That's the basic message of yesterday's California Supreme Court ruling, which said that Catholic Charities is not a religious employer and therefore isn't exempt from a state law requiring businesses to pay for employees' contraception. Catholic Charities isn't religious, the court said, because it employs and offers social services to people of all faiths and doesn't directly evangelize.
"This is such a crabbed and restrictive view of religion that it would define the ministry of Jesus Christ as a secular activity," wrote Justice Janice Rogers Brown, the sole dissenter to the 6-1 ruling. "Here we are dealing with an intentional, purposeful intrusion into a religious organization's expression of its religious tenets and sense of mission. 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 religious. This is precisely the sort of behavior that has been condemned in every other context."
Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, writing for the majority (PDF | DOC), said that Catholic Charities is "free to express its disapproval of prescription contraceptives and to encourage its employees not to use them," but must pay contraception costs for those who disagree with the organization's teachings.
"This case does not implicate internal church governance; it implicates the relationship between a nonprofit public benefit corporation and its employees, most of whom do not belong to the Catholic ...