SACRAMENTO, December 4, 2003 ( – Catholic leaders in California asked the state’s supreme court on Tuesday to exempt the Church from a law that requires employers who offer prescription drug plans in health insurance benefits to also include coverage for contraceptives.

“The Church teaches that the practice of artificial contraception is morally unacceptable,” said James Sweeney, an attorney for Catholic Charities of Sacramento. He said that the 2000 law is a violation of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion because it forbids the Church from acting according to its religious tenets.

A similar law is also being challenged by the Church in New York where a lower court has rejected the religious rights argument, saying the law has a clear secular purpose.

In Tuesday’s hearing, California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno wondered whether Church employees have a right to contraceptives regardless of Catholic teaching. “What about the rights of the employees?” he asked. But Justice Joyce Kennard wondered whether requiring contraceptive coverage was even legal: “What is the compelling interest of the state law?” Justice Janice Rogers Brown added if the state can require the Church to provide contraceptives against its own teaching, then it could also interfere in other Church matters, such as demanding the Church to ordain women.