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The Supreme Court on Monday refused to disturb a ruling that forces some California religious organizations to pay for workers’ contraceptive health insurance benefits. Justices turned down an appeal from a Roman Catholic organization that wanted the court to weigh in on states’ requiring employers that offer prescription benefits to employees also to cover birth control pills. The court’s announcement, on the first day of its nine-month term, keeps the justices out of a divisive church-state dispute; some 20 of the 50 states require employers that have prescription drug benefit plans also to cover birth control pills. Justices had been asked to review California’s law, which exempts churches but not church-backed institutions such as hospitals and charity organizations. Catholic Charities had challenged the law, on grounds that it could not be required to pay for something it viewed as sinful. The state Supreme Court ruled against the group last spring. “If the state of California can coerce Catholic agencies to pay for contraceptives, it can force them to pay for abortions,” attorney Kevin Baine told justices in an appeal for Catholic Charities. The case turned on the group’s constitutional right to exercise its religious beliefs without government interference. Timothy Muscat, California’s deputy attorney general, said that Catholic Charities could get around the requirement by not offering insurance to employees. The law was passed in 1999 to stop discrimination against women who had to pay more for drugs than did men. Catholic Charities does not qualify for an exemption because it offers such secular services as counseling, low-income housing and immigration services to the public without directly preaching about Catholic values. Also, the group employs people of many religious affiliations. The case is Catholic Charities of Sacramento v. California, 03-1618. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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