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March 1, 2004
Now This Is a First Amendment Issue

I wonder if the same people who screamed about government intrusion on First Amendment rights when Clear Channel Communications dropped Howard Stern's radio show will demonstrate any level of outrage over this:

A Roman Catholic charitable organization must include birth control coverage in its health care plan for workers even though it is morally opposed to contraception, the California Supreme Court ruled Monday. ... The high court said Catholic Charities is no different from other businesses in California, which is one of 20 states that require company-provided health plans to include contraception coverage if the plans have prescription drug benefits. In California, "religious employers" such as churches are exempt from the requirement. ...

The Supreme Court ruled that the charity is not a religious employer because it offers such secular services as counseling, low-income housing and immigration services to the public without directly preaching about Catholic values.

The court also noted that the charity employs workers of differing religions.

So the California Supreme Court has ruled that a religious organization that doesn't discriminate in its hiring practices and offers services to its community is not allowed to conduct itself within the bounds of its religion. Instead of being commended for its community involvement, the California state government used Catholic Charities' outreach as an excuse to impede their practice of religion. The state will force Catholic Charities into one or a combination of reactions in order to avoid funding contraception and abortion, two anathemas of the Catholic religion:

* Terminate all non-Catholic employees
* Stop performing community outreach
* Close its doors

The actions of California go directly to the rights of religious organizations to act in accordance with the tenets of their religion. The government of California excuses this as an equal-access issue, but the 14th Amendment does not trump the First Amendment, nor does it allow the state to redefine the definition of 'religious' organization to suit itself in its pursuit of liberal social policy. It means that any religious "organization" must petition for recognition as such for its members to practice freely, a policy that bears more resemblance to the People's Republic of China than to the United States of America. Moreover, this precedent will eventually allow the state to demand other actions of religious organizations, such as recognition of gay marriage and equal-access policies for hiring of priests, that directly contradict what the churches teach, for right or wrong.

The left, notably the normally rational Jeff Jarvis, warned of the terrible consequences to free speech that would result if the FCC started enforcing its existing regulations on indecent speech over public broadcast resources, which I have rebutted more than once. I wonder if as many people will stand up for Catholic Charities, their community outreach, and their open-arms hiring policy, as did those who stood up for Howard Stern's access to the public airwaves to broadcast the Lesbian Dating Game.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 1, 2004 4:02 PM

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