Yesterday’s ruling by the California Supreme Court forcing Catholic Charities to provide access to contraception is a potentially far-reaching decision that should concern every religious entity in the nation, critics say.

Richard Ackerman, who filed a brief in the case with the San Diego-based United States Justice Foundation, told WND it could have greater impact than the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that struck down Texas sodomy laws.

“Every religious entity in the state of California and the nation has something to be worried about,” said Ackerman, legal counsel for Sacramento-based Lively and Ackerman.

The court’s reasoning in yesterday’s decision calls into question any exemptions to laws or regulations that conflict with religious belief, he explained

In a 6-1 decision closely watched by other states, California’s Supreme Court became the highest court in the country to rule a private charity must include birth control coverage in its health care plan in spite of its moral opposition to contraception.

The ruling not only could affect thousands of workers in church-supported institutions across the state, but likely could be emulated by other states, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed briefs against the charity.

The ALCU argues the policy discriminates against women, who usually have had to pay more for birth control than men.

But Catholic Charities contended it should be protected under California’s law, which exempts a “religious employer.” The court ruled, however, the Catholic organization does not qualify because its purpose is secular, offering services such as counseling and low-income housing.

Ackerman said that could mean his faith-based, public-interest law firm, which also has a “secular purpose,” could be forced to hire homosexuals or transsexuals or pay for abortions against its beliefs.

A religious group in San Francisco, for example, could be required to pay for a sex-change operation because of a law passed last year, he added.

Ackerman said defenders of traditional values are at a “crossroads in legal jurisprudence.” As it stands, California’s Supreme Court decision, the first of its kind by a state high court, can be taken as a persuasive authority in the other 49 states. But if challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court and upheld, it would establish a precedent.

Joseph M. Starrs, director of American Life League’s Crusade for the Defense of our Catholic Church, said California bishops have a moral responsibility to oppose the “unjust” ruling, which forces the court’s “morality of secular humanism onto the Catholic Church.”

“It seems that the state of California is intent on convincing the world that up is down, that wrong is right,” Starrs said. “It seeks to recognize rights where they don’t exist, while usurping the constitutional right of Catholic Californians to the free exercise of religion.”

Starrs said Justice Janice Roger Brown – the lone dissenter – “clearly identified the real agenda behind this decision when she wrote, ‘The government is not accidentally or incidentally interfering with religious practice; it is doing so willfully by making a judgment about what is or is not a religion.'”

Brown was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last October by President Bush. But Democrats have blocked her appointment by filibustering, charging the black justice is an extremist who would turn back abortion rights and affirmative action.

Starrs said the bishops have several options for opposing the law, including ignoring it, as an act of civil disobedience, or countering it by withholding the many services they offer state residents. Or, they could simply stop offering any prescription medical benefit to their employees.

“Unfortunately, the net effect of the state Supreme Court’s decision is to exact a punishment on all Californians,” Starrs said.

“Through its hospitals, schools, soup kitchens, AIDS ministries and countless other outreaches, the Catholic Church has provided important services to millions of Californians,” he added. “It has also strengthened the state’s economy by providing a stable work environment for countless residents. It would be a sad day for all Californians if this decision forced the bishops to cease offering any of these programs.”

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