Supreme Court Orders NY Court to Revisit Ruling Forcing Catholic Diocese to Cover Employee Abortions

By Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum
contributor
Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist and a recognized expert in left-wing activism.
November 2, 2021 Updated: November 3, 2021

The Supreme Court ordered an appeals court in New York to reconsider its ruling forcing religious charities to provide abortion coverage against their religious beliefs in their employee health insurance packages.

The case is Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany v. Emami, court file 20-1501.

The Supreme Court granted the diocese’s petition for certiorari, or review, on Nov. 1 and immediately vacated—without hearing oral arguments—the ruling of the New York court and remanded it to that court for further consideration in light of its pro-religious-freedom ruling earlier this year in Fulton v. Philadelphia. Apart from citing the previous ruling, the unsigned order didn’t provide reasons for the decision.

In the Fulton ruling on June 17, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a Roman Catholic charity in Pennsylvania may refuse on religious-freedom grounds to place children with same-sex couples, as The Epoch Times previously reported.

Writing for the court in that case, Chief Justice John Roberts ruled that Philadelphia had violated the other side’s First Amendment rights.

The religious views of Catholic Social Services “inform its work in this system,” Roberts wrote. CSS believes that “marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman.”

“Because the agency understands the certification of prospective foster families to be an endorsement of their relationships, it will not certify unmarried couples—regardless of their sexual orientation—or same-sex married couples.”

In the case at hand, the New York State Department of Financial Services issued a regulation in 2017 requiring that employers fund abortions through their employee health insurance plans. The regulation exempted religious entities whose “purpose” is to inculcate religious values and who “employ” and “serve” primarily coreligionists. At the same time, the regulation forced religious organizations to cover abortions if they have a broader religious mission, such as serving the poor, or if they hire or serve people regardless of their faith.

“Needless to say, this regulation imposes enormous burdens on the countless religious entities opposed to abortion as a matter of longstanding and deep-seated religious conviction,” the diocese stated in its petition to the court filed in April.

“To take one example, the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion is well known. Yet under New York’s regulation, Catholic Charities, which serves the poor, must cover abortions.”

A group of charities representing different religious denominations sued in New York state court, arguing that the mandate to provide abortion coverage violated religious protections in the First Amendment, imposing severe burdens on their religious exercise and interfering with religious autonomy.

The petition also argued that New York’s mandate was invalid because it impermissibly “interfere[s]” with internal religious governance and doctrine, which “obviously violate[s]” the Religion Clauses of the Constitution, citing Our Lady of Guadalupe v. Morrissey-Berru (2020). Indeed, the document stated, “any attempt by government to dictate or even to influence such matters would constitute one of the central attributes of an establishment of religion.”

“Yet that is exactly what New York has done, by exerting pressure on religious groups to employ only coreligionists, serve only coreligionists, and limit their ‘purpose’ to inculcating religious values,” the petition stated.

But the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department, allowed the regulation to stand, reasoning that it was a “neutral and generally applicable” law under the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings in Employment Division v. Smith (1990) and Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye Inc. v. City of Hialeah (1993).

The church was pleased with the new ruling.

“We are gratified and grateful that the Supreme Court has recognized the serious constitutional concerns over New York State’s heavy-handed abortion mandate on religious employers,” Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger said in a statement, according to Fox News.

“We are confident that now that the Court has ordered the case remanded for reconsideration in light of last year’s Fulton v. Philadelphia decision, the unconstitutional regulatory action taken by New York State will ultimately be completely overturned as incompatible with our country’s First Amendment guarantee of religious liberty.”

Matthew Vadum
contributor
Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist and a recognized expert in left-wing activism.