Californian diocese to appeal Catholic Charities lawsuit before U.S. Supreme Court

Bishop William K. Weigand of Sacramento, announced on Tuesday that Catholic Charities of Sacramento will appeal a decision by the California Supreme Court that Catholic Charities is not a “religious organization” under state law and therefore must provide coverage for contraceptives.

Lawyers for Catholic Charities and the diocese filed their petition with the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, May 28.

The case, Catholic Charities of Sacramento, Inc. v. CA Department of Managed Health Care, was filed in July 2000 in response to a change in state law that required employers who provide a prescription drug benefit to also cover birth control.

Religious organizations were exempted from providing contraception coverage for their employees, but the law doesn't consider Catholic hospitals, universities or charities to be religious organizations.

“This lawsuit has very little to do with health insurance and everything to do with our fundamental rights as Americans,” Bishop Weigand said, according to the news agency Business Wire.

“It boils down to a very simple question. Under the Constitution, does the State of California have the right to tell its citizens how to practice their religion?”

“Healing the sick, offering charity to the poor and providing education to the young are fundamental to how Catholics practice their faith,” said Weigand. “We don't ask anyone if they're Catholic first.”

“In other words,” continued Weigand, “if we turned our back on the basic teachings of our religion and employed only Catholics, provided charity and social services only to Catholics, educated only Catholics in our universities and treated only Catholics in our hospitals, we would be in compliance with the law.”

The State of California has 30 days to respond. Four justices must decide to hear the case before it can come before the U.S. Supreme Court.

A decision on whether the Court will accept the case is not expected before October 2004.

Catholic Charities of Sacramento is part of the Diocese of Sacramento and carries out the social justice ministry of the Church to care for the sick, the poor and the needy.

It serves people of all faiths, and in 2003, it helped more than 70,000 people.

The California Catholic Conference has provided a timeline of the confrontation between Catholic Charities and the Supreme Court of California:

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