A Jealous God

On March 1, the California Supreme Court ruled that Catholic Charities must include contraceptives in its prescription drug coverage despite clear Catholic teaching to the contrary. Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, called the decision "a sign of the times," but that's not the half of it. California law says that if employers offer prescription drug coverage, they must include contraceptives. The law, however, like similar laws, exempts "religious employers" like churches. Catholic Charities argued that, as an "arm" of the Catholic church, it was exempt from offering the contraceptives. It pointed out that each chapter is "answerable to the local bishop." But a 6-to-1 majority rejected Catholic Charities's arguments, saying that the law "does not affect internal church governance." Instead, Justice Werdegar wrote, it affects "a nonprofit public benefit corporation and its employees, many of whom do not belong to the Catholic church." Justice Janice Brown, the sole dissenter, replied that the ruling defined "religious employers" too narrowly. As she put it, "[the ruling reflects] such a crabbed and restrictive view of religion that it would define the ministry of Jesus Christ as a secular activity." She described the law as "an intentional, purposeful intrusion into a religious organization's expression of its religious tenets and sense of mission . . . " Exactly. As Professor Robert George of Princeton says, this ruling should be seen as part of a larger attack on the Catholic church for "its resistance to the new liberal orthodoxy." If the church can be forced to pay for contraceptives, then there's no reason why it can't be forced to pay for abortions and provide "spousal" benefits to same-sex partners. And, Dr. George reminds us, "What applies to the Catholic church will also apply to evangelical Protestant churches" as well. And the ruling does more than provide a glimpse into a possible future where religious liberty has been effectively eradicated. It also provides us with an insight into the nature and priorities of the "new liberal orthodoxy." Catholic Charities was subject to the law only because it provided its employees with prescription drug coverage -- something many employers don't do. Now Catholic Charities has two choices: Violate church teaching, or drop prescription drug coverage. You would think that, in a culture where the cost of prescription drugs is a major political issue, an employer that provides such coverage would be applauded, not harassed. But you would think that only because you don't understand the "new liberal orthodoxy." To put it in biblical terms, it's a jealous god (small g). It will countenance no rival truth claims. And so given a choice between imposing its views on religious organizations or helping working people afford prescription drugs, it chooses ideology over people. In fact, to employ another biblical term, it can be compared to Moloch, the Canaanite god who demanded the sacrifice of innocents. This is strong language, but these are the times we live in. Protecting the freedom to worship our God begins with understanding how far our opponents will go in service to theirs. For further reading and information: Ted Olsen, "Weblog: California Supreme Court Orders Catholic Charities to Pay for Birth Control," Christianity Today, 2 March 2004. Bill McClellan, "California court jumps into religious waters," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2 March 2004. Richard W. Garnett, "Confine & Conquer," National Review Online, 3 March 2004. David E. Bernstein, "Free Reign," National Review Online, 3 March 2004. Paul Elias, "Catholic Charities must provide birth control," San Francisco Examiner, 2 March 2004. "Accountability for Judicial Activism Act Introduced in House," Rep. Ron Lewis (R-KY) press release, 9 March 2004. Peter Kreeft, How to Win the Culture War (InterVarsity, 2002).


Chuck Colson


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