Leaders of Christian Ethics Call for Free Exercise of Religion and Church

( [email protected] ) Mar 12, 2004 03:54 AM EST

WASHINGTON —According to Baptist Press, leaders of Christian ethics and medical organizations are in distress looking at the recent court ruling requiring Catholic Charities to provide contraceptives to its employees.

Under California's Women’s Contraception Equality Act (WCEA), the state requires employers to offer health insurance plans that provide prescription drug coverage to cover prescription contraceptives but Catholic Charities in keeping with its teachings that artificial birth control is sinful, refused to follow saying it violated free exercise of religion and church. However the state’s high court ruled against the organization on March 1, saying it failed to meet the requirement of having religious employers – Catholic Charities don’t provide services strictly to Catholics nor only hire Catholic employees.

Catholic Charities USA expressed that they were “dismayed by the court’s intrusion into the rights of a Catholic organization and find[s] it disturbing that a court can define a Catholic Charities agency as not being a religious organization.”

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called the decision “one more attack on the free exercise, religious rights of a Christian organization. A court is once again allowing legalized discrimination against such rights.”

David Stevens, executive director of the Christian Medical Association, said the primary issue in the case “is not even the important question of the ethics of birth control but the fundamental freedom to follow the dictates of one’s conscience and of the teachings of one’s religious faith.”

“This case presents a picture of the Catch-22 that some would use to hamstring faith-based organizations,” Stevens said in a written release. “On one hand, they fight laws that would allow faith-based organizations to restrict hiring to those who follow its religious teachings. Then on the other hand, as soon as a faith-based organization hires others, they say it’s no longer a faith-based organization and loses religious and conscience freedoms. The hypocrisy is stunning –- but not surprising....”

The court’s lone dissenter, Janice Rogers Brown, called the law “an intentional, purposeful intrusion into a religious organization’s expression of its religious tenets and sense of mission. 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.”

The Interfaith Alliance while praising the ruling of the court in “reaffirming the constitutional guarantee of an institutional separation between religion and government in the United States,” it criticized President Bush’s faith-based initiative of using federal money to support faith-based organizations.

Bush has been continuously trying to increase the federal funding to support faith-based organizations and recently on March 9, the White House revealed that more than $1.1 billion in federal grant was given to faith-based groups during the 2003 fiscal year.