April 16, 2020

Amicus Brief: Minton v. Dignity Health

Minton v. Dignity HealthDownload


The California Court of Appeal held that Dignity Health could be held liable for allowing Mercy, one of its Catholic hospitals, to follow the Catholic Church’s Ethical and Religious Directives.

The Court should grant the petition and reverse for three reasons.

First, California does not have a compelling state interest in forcing religious hospitals to perform elective sterilizations in violation of their religious beliefs and their Church’s teachings. In recent years, courts have been prone to define state interests in the broadest terms possible to justify trampling on First Amendment freedoms. This Court should grant the petition and put an end to that dangerous practice.

Second, the Court should make clear that courts must abstain from disputes over ecclesiastical matters like those here. Religious organizations must be free to “decide for themselves” issues of “faith and doctrine.” Kedroff v. St. Nicholas Cathedral of Russian Orthodox Church in N. Am., 344 U.S. 94, 116 (1952). This dispute is inextricably intertwined with the Catholic Church’s tenets for Catholic hospitals, and civil courts may not pass judgment on them.

Third, federal law preempts any possible claim under California’s Unruh Act. The federal Church Amendment prohibits “any court or any public official or other public authority” from requiring a healthcare entity to “make its facilities available for the performance of any sterilization procedure . . . if the performance of such procedure . . . in such facilities is prohibited by the entity on the basis of religious beliefs or moral convictions.” 42 U.S.C. 300a-7(b). Those are precisely the circumstances present here, and they warrant summary reversal.