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High court rejects appeals by Catholic Charities, Roy Moore

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Supreme Court dashed the hopes of a Roman Catholic social services agency and a former Alabama chief justice on the first day of its new term.

In an order released Oct. 4, the high court announced it would not review a California Supreme Court decision that requires Catholic Charities of Sacramento to provide prescription drug coverage for contraceptives.

In another case, the justices said they would not consider former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s appeal of his removal from office by a state judicial panel.

As usual, the justices did not comment on either case.

The California high court ruled in a 6-1 March opinion the state’s Women’s Contraception Equality Act does not infringe upon the religious rights of the Catholic agency. The 1999 state law requires some health insurance plans that cover prescription drugs to provide for contraceptives.

Catholic Charities, which abides by the Catholic Church’s teaching that the use of artificial birth control is sinful, contended the WCEA violates the free exercise of religion and church-state establishment clauses of both the United States and California constitutions.

Though the California law has a religious exemption, the justices ruled Catholic Charities did not meet the requirements for a “religious employer.” The agency does not primarily service Catholics nor primarily employ Catholics, the justices said in citing reasons it did not qualify for the exemption. The law serves a compelling state interest of “eliminating gender discrimination” and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest, the court also said.

At the time of the California high court’s ruling, Christian ethicists and physicians criticized the decision. 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.”

Moore became well-known for placing a 5,300-pound, granite monument that included the Ten Commandments in Alabama’s judicial building while he was chief justice of the state supreme court. When he refused to obey a federal judge’s order to remove the monument, action ensued to oust Moore from his position.

The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission removed Moore from office in November 2003, ruling he had violated the state’s code of judicial ethics by failing to move the display at the order of the judge.

In filing an appeal with the Supreme Court in July, Moore argued his First Amendment rights had been transgressed because he was forced to choose between an acknowledgment of God and his job. Moore also contended his right to due process was violated when he was not permitted to argue that the court order was unlawful.

Moore’s effort to keep the Ten Commandments display in the building gained support from many conservative Christians. He had first gained attention in the 1990s when he posted a plaque of the Ten Commandments in his Etowah County courtroom.

In addition to the Ten Commandments, the monument also included other historical quotations. Moore was elected Alabama’s chief justice in 2000 and had the monument installed in the judicial building’s rotunda the following summer.

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