Cedar Park Church — a family of churches in Washington state which also operates a Christian school — has found itself in the unique position of defending the constitutionally protected freedoms of all Washingtonians.
Last year, it filed a legal challenge to SB 6219, a state law enacted in 2018 mandating that all health insurance plans that cover maternity care also cover abortion, and now it is asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to allow its lawsuit to go forward just as it recently allowed a similar case in California to proceed.
SB 6219 violates both the letter and spirit of the U.S. Constitution, as well as Washington law and Americans’ longstanding respect for individual freedom of conscience. It contains no effective exemptions for those — like Cedar Park — with religious, moral, or conscientious objections to abortion. Under it, employers will be forced to subsidize, through the regular payment of their health insurance premiums, their employees’ abortions.
While Roe v. Wade legalized the practice of abortion nationwide, no Supreme Court case has held that there is a constitutionally protected right to have others pay for or facilitate payment for another person’s abortion. Any legal right that SB 6219 purports to manufacture is, therefore, subservient to the First Amendment freedom of conscience.
American history, tradition, and law confirm that no one can be forced to commit or participate in an act that is against his or her religious or moral beliefs, including payment for such an act. For example, Thomas Jefferson emphatically stated that no provision in the Constitution “ought to be dearer to man, than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.”
Compelling an objecting church or Christian school to provide and pay for insurance that covers abortion — a practice that many Americans oppose — and threatening it with state-imposed sanctions if it refuses to violate its religious beliefs or conscience in this way is undeniably dictatorial. It eviscerates the very purpose upon which America was founded.
And so we must confront SB 6219’s unconstitutional purpose and impact. As Jefferson prophetically charged us, “we are bound, you, I, & every one, to make common cause, even with error itself, to maintain the common right of freedom of conscience. We ought with one heart and one hand to hew down the daring and dangerous efforts of those who would seduce the public opinion to substitute itself into that tyranny over religious faith….”
The high court has also specifically held that laws cannot abridge First Amendment protections simply because an employer, business, or corporation is the source of the protected conduct. For example, the Supreme Court determined that the federal healthcare law’s “HHS Mandate” — which requires employers and businesses to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees regardless of religious, moral, or ethical objections — burdened the constitutionally protected freedoms of closely-held, for-profit corporations.
SB 6219’s abortion mandate also defies the unmistakable commitment Washingtonians have historically demonstrated for protecting the fundamental freedom of conscience.
Specifically, the Washington Constitution provides, “Absolute freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment, belief and worship, shall be guaranteed to every individual, and no one shall be molested or disturbed in person or property on account of religion.…”
Implementing this important constitutional safeguard, Washington law further recognizes that “every individual possesses a fundamental right to exercise their religious beliefs and conscience,” and provides that “[n]o individual or organization with a religious or moral tenet opposed to a specific service may be required to purchase coverage for that service or services if they object to doing so for reason of conscience or religion.”
Washingtonians have demonstrated a commitment to protecting and advancing the freedom of conscience and have consistently sought to protect individuals, employers, and businesses from laws or other mandates that would force them to violate their consciences, religious beliefs, or moral sensibilities. The 9th Circuit should allow Cedar Park Church’s lawsuit to proceed because SB 6219 ignores the state of Washington’s absolute obligation to protect First Amendment rights.
Denise M. Burke is senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents Cedar Park Church.
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