Catholic groups suffer tough religious liberties loss, must provide contraception

.- The New York Catholic Conference is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after a New York State Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that Catholic and other religious social service groups must provide contraceptive coverage through their workplace-sponsored medical insurance programs, regardless of their faith views on the matter.

New York law does exempt churches, seminaries, and other institutions with a more overt religious mission and which primarily serve followers of that religion. However, according to The Associated Press, the 6-0 decision hinged on defining Catholic Charities and the other nine religious groups suing the state as social service agencies, rather than religious organizations.

The court said: "We must weigh against (their) interests in adhering to the tenets of their faith the state's substantial interest in fostering equality between the sexes, and in providing women with better health care."

The court cited as a critical factor the fact that these religions organizations hire employees outside their faith and that those employees deserve “rights” guaranteed under the law.

Dennis Poust, spokesman for the Catholic conference, said he believes this ruling demonstrated “a fundamental misunderstanding of Catholicism,” which holds fast to the tenet that “faith without works is dead (James 2:17).”

“Faith alone is not enough ... and the way the Church performs its works of mercy is through its Catholic Charities, its schools and its hospitals — all of which the state has now held is secular," he was quoted as saying in an AP report.

Poust said his organization never believed that the court case was really about contraception. "We think it was to target the church and open the door for coverage of abortion," he said.

At issue is the 2002 Women's Health Wellness Act, a measure that, in addition to prescription contraceptives, requires employers to provide health insurance coverage for mammograms, cervical cytology, and bone density screening.

As Catholic Charities considers an appeal, it will continue to cover contraceptives for employees, under protest. If the decision stands, the organization could consider either dropping prescription drug coverage for employees or moving to a self-insurance policy, Poust said. 

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