Terry Jeffrey

When the New York legislature passed a law last Friday legalizing same-sex marriage, all of New York's Roman Catholic bishops signed a statement warning that they now expect efforts to enact laws attacking churches that defend the truth.

"We strongly uphold the Catholic Church's clear teaching that we always treat our homosexual brothers and sisters with respect, dignity and love," said the bishops.

"But we just as strongly affirm that marriage is the joining of one man and one woman in a lifelong, loving union that is open to children, ordered for the good of those children and the spouses themselves," they said. "This definition cannot change, though we realize that our beliefs about the nature of marriage will continue to be ridiculed, and that some will even now attempt to enact government sanctions against churches and religious organizations that preach these timeless truths."

The bishops are wrong -- about the timing. Efforts to sanction churches for defending the truth will not be starting now, they have already started.

America's liberal establishment has already shown how it can flout the Constitution and use government to force churches to act against their own moral teachings.

As I wrote in my book "Control Freaks," the 2004 case of Catholic Charities of Sacramento v. the Superior Court of Sacramento County demonstrated this.

In the Catholic Charities case, a six-to-one majority of the California Supreme Court upheld a law enacted by the California legislature that required Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable organizations to provide prescription contraception coverage for their employees if they purchased any prescription drug coverage for their employees at all.

It did not matter to the majority in California's legislature, who passed the law, and then Gov. Gray Davis, who signed it, that employees of Catholic organizations were free to buy any kind of contraceptives they wanted -- with their own money. These politicians wanted to force the Catholic Church to buy contraceptives against its teaching.

The Catholic Church argued that it deeply believed and clearly taught that artificial contraception was wrong. The church also said it believed it had a moral obligation -- as part of its duty to treat workers justly -- to provide prescription drug coverage for its employees.

The liberals behind California's contraceptive law no doubt relished putting the Catholic Church in this box: force Catholic authorities to choose between upholding their church's teaching on artificial contraception or upholding their church's view of the just treatment of workers.

They wanted to force the Catholic Church to choose one wrong or another. It is hard to imagine an uglier or more tyrannical impulse in a politician.

The church resisted. Catholic Charities of Sacramento sued the state, seeking to protect its own and everyone else's freedom of religion.

"This lawsuit has very little to do with health insurance and everything to do with our fundamental rights as Americans," Roman Catholic Bishop William Weigand of Sacramento explained at the time. "It boils down to a very simple question. Under the Constitution, does the state of California have the right to tell its citizens how to practice their religion?"

Three Protestant churches - -including the Lutheran-Church Missouri Synod, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel and the Worldwide Church of God -- joined the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in filing an amicus brief supporting Catholic Charities.

"The state proposes a rule of law that forces a church institution, in violation of its own self-identity and constitution, to pay for something in its own workplace that the institution holds and teaches to be sinful," the churches said in this brief.

"Today's case is about contraceptives," they said. "Tomorrow's will present some other issue that elicits public division, such as abortion, assisted suicide, cloning, or some issue of self-governance, such as the use of resources for evangelization or who a religious agency may hire to do ministry work."

The California Supreme Court's decision was bold and simple. It conceded that the California law demanded that the Catholic Church act against its own teachings.

"We do not doubt Catholic Charities' assertion that to offer insurance coverage for prescription contraceptives to its employees would be religiously unacceptable," said the court.

But it concluded that the state's interest in eliminating "gender discrimination" trumped the Catholic Church's freedom of religion.

"Assuming for the sake of argument the (law) substantially burdens a religious belief or practice, the law nevertheless serves a compelling state interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest," said the court. "The (law) serves the compelling state interest of eliminating gender discrimination."

Catholic Charities appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the court refused to take the case up, letting California's law stand.

Apologists for New York's same-sex marriage law argue that it includes a religious exemption that protects churches from having to officiate over same-sex marriages and protects them in "taking such action as is calculated by such organization to promote the religious principles for which it is established or maintained" -- including in its employment practices.

That is, of course, until the same kind of ideologues who are now pushing same-sex marriage laws begin suing churches in states where same-sex marriage is a "right" because, they argue, the churches have made them victims of "gender discrimination."

Then Anthony Kennedy gets to decide.


Terry Jeffrey

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSNews

Be the first to read Terence Jeffrey's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.

©Creators Syndicate