NYS Bishops Statement on Religious Liberty Litigation

Published on December 30th, 2002

Confronted with no other means of defending our religious freedom against a governmental assault, plaintiffs representing a broad array of Catholic and Protestant entities today have taken the necessary step of initiating legal action against the State of New York.

This action seeks to overturn a mandate passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor that forces religious health, education and human services agencies to violate the teachings of their faith by providing prescription contraception. This law rejects the traditional understanding of religion and puts the state, for the first time, in the position of defining religious faith and practice.

In our judgment, abortion and contraception advocates have been given free reign to dictate public policy in New York State at the expense of religious freedom. Not only is this law a direct assault on the Catholic Church and its moral and ethical teachings, but it also unconstitutionally intrudes on any religion that does not share the goals and ideals of the abortion industry.

The use of artificial contraception is contrary to the Catholic Church’s long-held teaching on the gift of human sexuality. Accordingly, the New York State Catholic Conference sought an exemption for all religiously affiliated institutions that hold this tenet of faith from a proposed state mandate to provide contraception insurance in all employee health plans. The mandate is part of a larger act that also increases access to screenings for diseases unique to women. We remain deeply supportive of increased access to life-affirming health care for women. We asked only for an exemption for religious reasons from the contraception portion of the mandate. However, our pleas for tolerance were ignored.

The law we now challenge has extraordinarily grave implications for all religious faiths. For the first time, by using an unconstitutional, arbitrary and unworkable set of criteria to characterize what is religious, the state has attempted to define what is and is not Catholic. In effect, the state has deemed that the following are not allowed to be Catholic: Catholic hospitals, Catholic nursing homes, Catholic schools and universities, Catholic homes for unwed mothers, Catholic foster care programs, Catholic AIDS residences, Catholic immigration outreach centers, Catholic shelters for runaways and Catholic drug treatment programs.

Such an outrageous law ought to alarm anyone who loves America and the freedoms for which it stands. We cannot let this unprecedented intrusion on our religious rights go unchallenged.

We now ask the courts to overturn this intolerant mandate as a gross violation of the New York and United States Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion. As we undertake this action, we pray fervently for a return to religious tolerance and respect for diversity in this great state. We ask New Yorkers of all faiths to join us in that prayer.

–Roman Catholic Bishops of New York State

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