No Contraception Exception

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Glen Whitman observes another way in which economic regulations inevitably bleed over into civil liberties territory: the Supreme Court of California has ruled [PDF] that Catholic charities must provide coverage for birth control in health plans for their employees.

On an admittedly cursory skimming, the court seems to put a lot of weight on the fact that the charities have a "secular" purpose, which raises the question: Who determines the purpose of an organization? Churches, too, serve secular purposes—building community, providing counseling for parishioners.

NEXT: Poison Pill Legislation

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  1. Uhhh, whatever happened to the seperation of church and state?

    I think this example is precisely why the wall is useful for everyone involved.

  2. The court decision of course violates the first amendment guarantee of a right to practice religion, and does so without a compelling public purpose.

    Birth control is relatively inexpensive to purchase directly. Compelling insurance companies to pay for it actually increases the costs because of the administrative cost for the insurance company. So the law upon which the court based its decision is a bad law in itself.

    Neither the law being enforced, nor the court decision to enforce it, benefits the public or the individuals involved. A free market in insurance would solve many problems, including this one.

  3. Isn’t there a requirement that religious charities be organized as separate, formally non religious entities like the Salvation Army to qualify for favorable tax treatment?

    I’m trying to remember how all the hubbub about Bush’s ‘Faith Based Charity’ programs came about …

  4. In this instance it’s yet another reason to reestablish separation of state and healthcare.

  5. Rush said this was bad, so the dittoheads agree…

    Um, the Catholic charity in this case employs non-Catholics, and I bet they get tax-payer money somehow. And it isn’t the charity’s business if their employees want to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

  6. Steve,
    The reproductive choices of Americans is NOBODY’S business.

  7. If you want fun with definitions, consider the IRS’s regulations for determining whether an organization is tax-exempt. Here’s just a sample of the IRS’s explanation of how to determine if an organization is not “educational”:

    “The organization’s presentations make substantial use of inflammatory and disparaging terms and express conclusions more on the basis of strong emotional feelings than of objective evaluations.”

    If the IRS applied that standard literally, it would wipe out quite a number of currently-exempt groups.

  8. “Um, the Catholic charity in this case employs non-Catholics”

    Um, against their will?

  9. The court was looking at the statute, and the group agreed that it didn’t meet the definition of “religious organization” under the statute. I don’t know all the relevant case law here, but it seems to me that you’ve either got the legislature or the courts setting up rules as to who qualifies for these kinds of exemptions (the CA legislature set up a scheme that Catholic Charities admits that it doesn’t qualify for). Plus, the court makes the point that “only those who join a church impliedly consent” to its policies; why should a nonprofit organization get to impose its religiously motivated preferences on its employees?

  10. Steve in CO,

    Here’s a suggestion, if your employer doesn’t want to pay for your contraceptives, buy them yourself.

  11. I’m pissed the ACLU supports this. Their blind desire to see as-free-for-all-as-possible reproductive services for women hasn’t helped gain any credibility for the “L” in their name.

  12. If I were this nonprofit, I would just cancel all health coverage for my employees or move out of CA altogether.

  13. One of the factors in this decision was that the majority of Catholic Charities’ clients are not Catholic- a statistic that one judge for the majority sited in her decision. Catholic Charities seeks to aid members of the community regardless of affiliation. This seems pretty secular to me.

  14. I don’t have a problem with the decision,
    except, why can’t the employer pick and chose the benefits?
    But that puts us back where we started from.

  15. It’s only a matter of time before the CA Supreme Court declares that tthe Catholic Church must employ married transexual lesbian priestesses – because after all, a church in granting a stipend to a priest is more like an employer than a church…

    In all truth, this is where the Lemon test leads to. The state wants to do charity, but can’t staff it up, since you can deliver a lot more charity, more cheaply, going through a high quality NGO than through an inefficient government agency. Besides, you can cut off a private charity any time you want, unlike a unionized public employee.

    So they go to Catholic Charities, which is happy to be able to help more people. Problem is, they can’t really talk about why Catholics do charity, which is to bear witness to Christ and to carry out the commands of Holy Scripture.

    So they water down their purpose statement, say that they do charity as part of a comprehensive i>social justice program (no shitski, that’s what they said) and ask to be treated as a secular organization, the primary purpose of which is “social justice.” Well, now they are getting treated that way, and they don’t like it.

    The alternative is to disavbow public funding, do what they can do, and let the government pick up the tab by hiring government relief workers.

    Well, you don’t think the Cali government is going to let those poor folks starve, or go without English-as-a-Second-language classes, or go wanting for day care, do you? Only one thing to do then: hike taxes, issue a bond, and hire some social workers to replace those damn churchies.

    So while this is a great win for the religion haters, the long term costs of this great win, if CC drops out of the business, will probably accrue to the taxpayer.

    Nicely done, Cali. Nicely done.

  16. I would just like to point out that Catholics don’t regard aid to poor non-Catholics as being any less of a spiritual imperative than aid to poor Catholics. To say that their non-Catholic clients constitute a “secular purpose” is to completely misunderstand the religion.

    Yes, I know, most people here aren’t into religion, let alone Catholicism. The point is that every time that wall between church and state is breached from one side (the state meddling with the church), it just encourages a counter-attack by the other side (the church trying to meddle with the state).

    And yes, I know, separation of church and state is not to be found in a literal reading of the Constitution. Well, the point is that whether or not this separation is found in the Constitution, it’s a good practice that we’ve tried to more or less adhere to some of the time in this country, and anything that undermines that practice is undesirable.

  17. Seriously, the PRIVATE charities in question should have a right not to provide medications that violate their religious viewpoint. (Do birth control pills cost THAT much that you need insurance to cover the cost?) Even though the RCC’s attitude about sex is one of the many reason I became an atheist, they still have the right to act upon their beliefs as long as they don’t violate the rights of others. When last I checked, access to contraceptives WAS not a right, although that the feminists and the health-care-is-a-right crowd who would take issue with that.

    However, as an atheist, I still reserve the right to think Catholics are a bunch of primitive screwheads for for said attitudes about sexuality and contraceptives. “Every sperm is sacred. Every sperm is great. If a sperm is wasted,
    God gets quite irate.”

  18. Almost a year ago, I applied for and was enrolled into a plan provided to me by the hospital I had worked for (Saint Agnus). During one of my exams, I asked the nurse attendant if I could see a pamphlet regarding the brands of birth control that were available, and if I could possibly have a prescription. She told me that Catholic Charities was in charge of the health care plan I was under and did not provide birth control.
    She also informed me that they were allowed to write me a prescription, but I would have to pay the full price of $60 a month (as opposed to the normal insurance approved $15). I no longer work for that hospital nor have their insurance.

  19. Isn’t it a little bizarre having medical insurance cover birth control? I thought the purpose of insurance was to protect against problems that can’t be foreseen — like a broken arm, heart attack, etc. I don’t see how birth control could fit in that category in any way.

    Having birth control as a health insurance benefit sounds to me like income redistribution more than anything else. Screw that!

  20. Separation of church and state isn’t enough. Once the government proclaims that it can dictate the kind of benefits an employer provides, whether it has a religious purpose or not, it’s outlawing choices which employers could otherwise make on religious grounds. This is a violation of religious freedom.

    What’s needed is, as Critic said, separation of healthcare and state. Or to put it more broadly, separation of business and state.

    By the way, KFWB won’t let anyone who isn’t using the Big Two browsers look at its website. Their loss.

  21. Douglas Fletcher, it strikes me that providing birth control is a rational business decision on the part of the insurance company to reduce its costs and maximize its profits by encouraging the use of contraceptives (cheap) instead of having to pay for pregnancies (each of which can easily cost multiple times a lifetime supply of the Pill). Additionally, a working woman who has a baby might leave her job, thereby taking herself away from the insurance plan as a customer.

  22. Douglas Fletcher

    “I thought the purpose of insurance was to protect against problems that can’t be foreseen…”

    What a quaint notion.

    I want my health plan to pay for my food, my homeowners policy to cover repainting my house, and my car insurance to pay for oil changes.

  23. What’s the point of requiring all employers to provide some standardized benefits? Why not just go whole-hog and have the government provide these benefits for all! In fact, the jobless NEED these benefits more than those with jobs! 😉

  24. So will catholic charities just move to helping catholics only, and let the state programs move to fill in the gap for helping the poor in california? Sounds like a great way to get moeny to balance the budget in that state.

  25. Douglas Fletcher

    And I want someone else to pay the premiums.:)

  26. Don’t worry guys; I’m sure the ACLU will jump right in and help the poor Catholic Church.

    Any day now.

  27. So if I ran a Jehova’s Witness organization, would I have to fund blood transfusions?

  28. A government telling a religious organization that giving charity is a “secular purpose” is the essence of doublethink. If many, even most of their clients are non-communicants, doesn’t that make CC’s charity even purer?

    There are 2 annoying public policy fubars. The first is that various local Catholic Charities organizatons often act as contractors for government-funded programs. Your average libertarian has a problem with the government funding, not the charity. The second is that state governments refuse to let employers contract with insurers for a limited array of health services, instead mandating a wide range of care that makes coverage too costly for many businesses. If the chiropractors donate enough money to legislative and gubernatorial candidates in your state, don’t be surprised when your insurer is forced to include chiropractic as a covered treatment, frex.

    I suggest that CC CA convert their health insurance benefits to Medical Savings Accounts or other consumer-controlled plans. Then those who want to spend plan funds on contraception will be doing so with their own cash, not the church’s.

  29. Not only are birth control pills really that expensive, but they require prescriptions. When a company is allowed to pick and choose the medications that an employee’s doctor can prescribe for them, wouldn’t that be a violation of the employee’s rights? “Oh, so sorry, I know your doctor says lithium is the best choice for you, but it’s against our religion for you to take psychiatric medications.” Under California law, the courts had to decide this way. Don’t like? Well, I for one wouldn’t mind fewer religous fundamentalists in my state. But until then, yeah, if it’s a prescription, you cover it.

    Also, health insurance isn’t necessarily paid in full by the employer, the employee usually has to kick in a share. Some places more, some places less, but nonetheless the employee is paying as well. Why should the employer have the final say in which prescription medications can be covered by the insurance?

    Perhaps a better question is, why aren’t birth control pills an over the counter medication? Then no one’s insurance would have to cover them. I could shop around for the best price. And the market could work its magic.

  30. The decision was made as it was because the charity does the following:

    -serves people regardless of their faith
    -does not involve a religious message with its service
    -employs people regardless of their faith

    If the charity/hospital/etc. doesn’t walk like a religious organization, talk like one, or act like one, why should it be treated like one? It’s like saying that because I’m a Catholic (I’m not, but play along), and I worship in my house, my house is thus a church, and it should be treated as such by the government. Or, I’m a Catholic and I run a hotel, so my religious beliefs should color how I treat my employees, and my religious beliefs should be shared by my employees, even though they may not be of the same religion.

    If you’re not making religion part of your service, you’re not acting as a religious organization, and you’re not going to be treated as a religious organization.

  31. Heather — some health insurance plans do not include drug coverage. For example, Medicare (the old benefit… don’t get me started on the new regime). It’s not that old folks couldn’t get drugs, just that they had to pay full freight.

    The one time in my life I had birth control pills covered by my health plan was when I was at NYU, and then I had to get the pills from their pharmacy. Prior to that, I went to the drug store with my prescription, and bought the pills for $30/month (in the 1990s). My doctor didn’t ask me if my drug coverage included the birth control pills I asked for — why would she care? All her office cared about is that my visits were paid for.

    In any case, Catholic Charities’ troubles can go away simply by dropping drug coverage plans. So now male and female employees are treated equally — they all have to pay for their own drugs.

  32. Catholic Charities don’t want to drop their drug coverage plan because that too would be against their religious beliefs.

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