WASHINGTON (April 4, 2002) -- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and three other religious organizations have asked the Supreme Court of the State of California to overturn a lower court ruling that would force Catholic Charities of Sacramento to provide insurance coverage of contraceptives for its employees.
"The legislation challenged here is the camel's nose under the tent, the cutting edge of an attempt, by making the church pay for what it explicitly opposes, in effect to silence a church's message and mission anytime it does not conform to the prevailing secular wisdom. That is a bad law, a bad policy, and unconstitutional," the church groups declared in a friend of the court brief. "Forcing Catholic Charities to pay for insurance coverage for contraceptives in its own workplace violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution," they declared.
The organizations signing the brief said the case is about more than the issue of providing contraceptives, about which, they acknowledged, their own teachings do not necessarily agree.
"However, they recognize that this case seeks to establish a precedent dangerous to our national tradition of respecting the integrity of religious institutions against the intrusive power of the State," they said. "The State proposes a rule of law that forces a church institution, in violation of its own self-identity and constitution, to pay for something in its own workplace that the institution holds and teaches to be sinful. At issue is an effort by California to rewrite the church agency's self-definition...by forbidding it to practice in its own house what it preaches."
"If Catholic Charities constitutionally-grounded right of self-definition and autonomy is not vindicated here, no denomination will be safe from the threat of being reconstituted at the state's command," the brief warned.
"Today's case is about contraceptives. Tomorrow's will present some other issue that elicits public division, such as abortion, assisted suicide, cloning, or some issue of self-governance, such as the use of resources for evangelization or who a religious agency may hire to do ministry work. Indeed, the State's preposterous claim that Catholic Charities is not a religious organization at all shows just how radical the State's agenda is."
According to the brief, the case presents an issue of historic consequence for all churches. "Once allowed, there is little in principle to stop further destructive intrusions into the self-governance and organization of churches, for if a church can be required...to provide or pay for particular programs or services even if repugnant to its deeply held religious convictions, it would seem that no church or church body is safe from the ad hoc nullification of its practices and teaching at the hands of the State."
As an example of the potentially far-reaching consequences of the law, the brief said that even Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charities could be forced out of existence by a law requiring them to pay for contraceptives, assisted suicides, or abortions. "This Court's intervention is necessary to prevent the state from attacking the integrity of Catholic Charities, as the State has done here, and other church agencies."
The brief said that if California could require Catholic Charities to provide contraceptives, the same logic would seem to allow the government to regulate selection of clergy under a law forbidding discrimination based on sex, forbid the celebration of Mass through a law forbidding possession and consumption of alcohol, and outlaw kosher slaughterhouses through laws regulating food handling–results that are all constitutionally impermissible.
In addition to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the other groups filing the amici brief were the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, and the Worldwide Church of God.
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (the "Synod") is the second largest Lutheran denomination in the United States. The Synod is comprised of approximately 6,000 member congregations, with approximately 2.6 million individual members. In California, the Synod has approximately 400 congregations.
The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel operates Foursquare Gospel churches in the United States and around the world. In 2001, there were 1,793 Foursquare churches in the U.S. having 242,616 adherents and over 3 million adherents worldwide attending some 28,000 Foursquare churches.
The Worldwide Church of God, a California corporation, began in the early 1930's in Eugene, Oregon. In 1947 it was incorporated in California where it maintains its headquarters. The Church has congregations throughout the United States and affiliate churches in many foreign countries.
The brief in Catholic Charities of Sacramento, Inc. v. Superior Court of the State of California was filed in the California Supreme Court on March 8.
NOTE: The full text of the brief is available on the USCCB Web site at www.usccb.org/ogc/amicuscuriae5.shtml.