OU Joins Call to Supreme Court to Protect Religious Freedom of Catholic Charities

Posted on July 23, 2007 In Press Releases



Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, through its Institute for Public Affairs, joined with other leading religious groups in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to review a case in which New York State’s highest court ruled that the state may compel a religious organization to include contraceptives in its employees’ health insurance plan. The UOJCA and the other groups on the brief contend the state court ruling is at odds with fundamental principles of religious liberty and hope the Court will reverse the state court ruling.

The case is Catholic Charities of Albany v. Superintendent of Insurance. It arises out of New York’s enactment of a law (the Women’s Health & Wellness Act) which requires all group insurance policies that include coverage for prescription drugs to include contraceptive drugs or devices in their coverage. While the “WHWA” includes an exemption for “religious employers” from this mandate, the WHWA defines religious employers so narrowly as to exclude Catholic Charities, and similar entities, because (in this case) they employ persons other than Catholics and serve people in need other than Catholics.

The legal brief urging the Court to grant Certiorari and review the case contends that the New York court’s ruling is at odds with First Amendment rulings by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit which rejected such statutes as not “neutral and generally applicable” among different religious groups. The brief also contends that the New York court failed to review the WHWA with the highest, “strict scrutiny” standard of review it demands. The friend of the Court brief in which the UOJCA joined was also joined by the Association for Christian Schools Int’l, the General Conference of Seventh Day Adventists and the National Association of Evangelicals. The brief was drafted by the firm of Sidley & Austin.

Nathan Diament, director of the UOJCA’s Institute for Public Affairs, issued the following statement:

The ruling by the New York Court of Appeals that, in effect, Catholic Charities is not a religious organization and may be compelled by law to violate its religious tenets ought to be worrisome to people of all faiths. The First Amendment demands appropriate exemptions and accommodations of religious practice and belief and demands we not tolerate laws which pick favorites among faith for protections as the WHWA does. We hope the Supreme Court will take this case and reverse the ruling.

Click here to read the related amicus curiae brief in PDF.

For more commentary and analysis of this issue based on a similar ruling from California’s supreme court, see: http://www.ou.org/public_affairs/article/a_bad_faith_decision/