Does the Catholic Church Have a First Amendment Right to Provide Social Services?

No. And they accept that fact. Here’s the challenge.

Anthony R. Picarello Jr., general counsel and associate general secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, disagreed. “It’s true that the church doesn’t have a First Amendment right to have a government contract,” he said, “but it does have a First Amendment right not to be excluded from a contract based on its religious beliefs.

This is from a NYT story published in today’s Post-Gazette.

The piece follows the travails of the Church in response to increasing requirements to deliver services that are paid for with public dollars in accordance with public rules, ie, play fair. The Church has to provide contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans if they accept public dollars because contraception is a legal medical right. The morality has nothing to do with the public dollars they accept to pay for this insurance as part of their government contracts.

The Church also has to allow same sex headed household to foster and adopt. Again, they accept public money.

The article explores how some dioceseses are spinning their charitable efforts off into secular non-profit organizations to keep the services going without further input from the church. Others are fighting back, insisting as the quote above illustrates that their religious beliefs are being violated.

The courts don’t agree. No one says the church can’t deliver services. They just have to pay for it with their own  money if they want to set their own rules. How is that rocket science? After all, there’s this huge belief that if the government stopped sucking up all the charity dollars in the form of taxes, it would suddenly pour forth in a wellspring of funding for private social services and charitable efforts … the mythical private safety net.

Well, there’s little evidence to suggest that’s true. The Catholic Church shutters parishes and schools left and right. Faith based food pantries and homeless ministries struggle to care for people because of limited funding. I’m not suggesting these services go away, just that they aren’t ever going to be adequate as substitutes for government funded human service programs. The fact is — the Church has not done a sufficient enough job preaching the Good News to create a viable alternative to support the human needs of those who suffer in our world.  Period.

Requiring all providers who apply for government contracts to comply with regulations is not a violation of the First Amendment. There’s a reason that its a good idea to have government oversight of programs run by an Institution that has historically hidden the abuse of children, especially if MY tax dollars pay for those programs.


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