Americans United in late April advised the University of California at San Francisco Board of Regents to pull out of, or alter, a proposed agreement that will subject several hospitals to religious dictates.
Under the proposal, UCSF Health and the Dignity Health network, which is run by the Catholic Church, would join forces. The plan calls for the university’s publicly funded medical center and its employees and students to comply with the church’s religious tenets.
In a letter sent April 22 to the board and UCSF Health President and CEO Mark Laret, Americans United explained that any agreements that restrict how UCSF employees or students provide medical care based on religious rules – including those known as the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) for Catholic Health Care Service – violate both the U.S. and California Constitutions.
“UCSF Health is a public institution that cannot enter into an agreement that requires its employees or students to abide by any particular religious beliefs. That is a fundamental violation of religious freedom,” said Richard B. Katskee, AU’s legal director. “Furthermore, it’s unacceptable that UCSF Health would consider an affiliation agreement that would endorse the use of religion as the basis for discrimination, particularly against women and the LGBTQ community.”
Media accounts say that two of the four San Francisco-area hospitals included in the UCSF-Dignity Health affiliation agreement would fall under the Catholic dictates. These would bar UCSF employees and students from providing abortion care, contraceptives, fertility treatments, sterilization, physician-assisted end-of-life decisions and gender-affirming treatment for transgender patients. Two other hospitals in the affiliation would be subject to the “Catholic statement of common values,” which also limits abortion, fertility treatments and physician-assisted end-of-life decisions.
“The University of California cannot legally enter into an agreement that binds the University, its employees, or its medical students to conform to religious doctrine in either the services that they provide or the information that they present to patients,” said the letter sent by Katskee and AU Staff Attorney Ian Smith.
AU’s letter asserts that under the First Amendment, government cannot concede its decision-making authority to a religious organization. It also argues that government cannot promote practices because they are required by a particular religion, or prohibit practices because they are disfavored by a certain religion. Finally, it argues that under Article 1, Section 4, of the California Constitution, government cannot have even the appearance of showing a preference for a particular religion.
AU’s letter requests that UCSF deny the requested affiliation agreement and sever any existing affiliation, or alter these agreements so that UCSF does not agree to abide by the ERDs or any other religious tenets and does not enforce them in any way.