Cedar Park Church Pastor Jay Smith and his wife, Sandy. Photo: ADF

USA: 18 states, advocates support WA church challenging state abortion mandate

A Washington state law, SB 6219, forces churches to cover elective abortions in their health insurance plans. As a result of the state’s mandate, Cedar Park Church’s insurance carrier inserted abortion coverage, including surgical abortion coverage, directly into the church’s health plan.

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(ZENIT News / Seattle, 12.04.2023).- Eighteen states, along with several pro-life and religious liberty advocacy organizations, have united in support of a Seattle-area church in friend-of-the-court-briefs filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys appealed to the court on behalf of Cedar Park Church after a lower court ruled that the church must violate its constitutionally protected, pro-life religious beliefs and abide by the state’s mandate that most Washington employers provide abortion coverage for employees.

In July 2021, the 9th Circuit reversed the district court’s initial decision to dismiss Cedar Park Church’s case, filed after Washington state Senate Bill 6219 was signed into law in March 2018. The law requires Cedar Park to provide coverage for abortion if the church also offers maternity care coverage to its employees—violators face fines and criminal penalties, including imprisonment. The district court has ruled against the church yet again, this time on the merits, prompting ADF attorneys to appeal that ruling to the 9th Circuit.

“Cedar Park Church celebrates and protects life from conception to natural death; it’s unconscionable for the state to force any church to pay for abortions,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch. “The abortion coverage mandate requires Cedar Park to act contrary to its religious beliefs and violates its constitutionally protected freedoms. The U.S. Supreme Court established that the government cannot compel religious organizations to act in violation of their sincerely held faith convictions. As these other states and advocates affirm, Washington can’t trample on Cedar Park’s right to provide health care for its employees without compromising its faith.”

After the state law went into effect, Cedar Park’s insurance carrier added surgical abortion coverage to Cedar Park’s health plan. The insurer indicated that it would remove the offensive coverage if a court were to hold the law cannot constitutionally be applied to churches.

In the multi-state brief led by South Carolina, the attorneys general argue that the district court was wrong to ignore the religious motivation behind Cedar Park’s mission. “The Supreme Court has clearly established that religious organizations enjoy First Amendment protection regarding the ways in which they participate in seemingly secular activities, especially relating to the care of children, when those activities implicate the religious beliefs, central mission, and operation of the religious organizations,” the brief filed in Cedar Park Assembly of God of Kirkland v. Kreidler states.

Additionally, the Sutherland Institute brief highlights the dangers of government officials forcing religious institutions to violate their beliefs. “Until recently, supporters and opponents of abortion rights acknowledged that coercing religious organizations to support abortion triggers profound questions of religious freedom. Dragooning religious organizations into becoming complicit in abortion is no mere health-and-safety regulation: it is an intolerable invasion of religious autonomy,” the brief explains. “Without this Court’s intervention, religious institutions in Washington will have to subsidize and facilitate conduct that they believe to be grave sin. Other States may follow. That will fuel a dangerous trend where States exert regulatory power to override the autonomy guaranteed to religious institutions by the First Amendment.”



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