CA High Court: Church Charity Must Offer Contraceptives

March 1, 2004 ( - Despite the Catholic church's teaching against birth control, California's highest court has ruled that a Catholic charity still has to offer prescription contraceptives in its employee health plan.

The California Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision rejecting Catholic Charities of Sacramento’s claims it did not have to offer prescription contraceptives because it had to follow church doctrine that the use of artificial birth control is a sin.

The state Supreme Court said the charity, incorporated separately from the church, was not a “religious employer” exempt from legislation mandating such coverage. While affiliated with the Catholic Church, the charity’s purpose is not to spread religious values, most justices noted.

The charity could avoid any conflict with religious values by not offering its employees prescription drug coverage, the justices held. Employers in California are not required to offer such coverage.

Only Associate Justice Janice Brown dissented. “Here we are dealing with an intentional, purposeful intrusion into a religious organization’s expression of its religious tenets and sense of mission,” Brown 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 religious.”

Timothy Muscat, the California deputy attorney general who argued the state’s case before the state high court, said the justices drew a line between purely religious employers and affiliated groups with broader purposes.