Several years ago, California began requiring churches and other religious organizations to pay for abortions in their employee health care plans, an act that prompted religious freedom lawsuits and has even involved an agency of the federal government. One church that has been battling that mandate in the federal courts for years just received support from an unlikely place – the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, headquartered in San Francisco, which just reversed a trial judge’s dismissal of the church’s lawsuit and sent the case back down for a trial.
Skyline Wesleyan Church (Skyline) in San Diego has been serving its community since 1954. It offers its employees a generous benefits package. It also believes that every human life is sacred from the moment of conception to natural death, so it has always purchased health plans for its employees that excluded coverage for elective abortion.
When the California Department of Managed Health Care in 2014 rescinded existing religious exemptions for entities like Skyline, it put the church in an untenable position of choosing between paying for abortion or cease providing a health plan altogether.
The church, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, filed a lawsuit in the federal courts in California and also asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to get involved, because federal law prohibits states that receive federal funds from requiring employers to pay for abortions in their health care plans.
On January 24, 2020, HHS issued a “notice of violation” letter to California informing officials there that its abortion mandate violated the Weldon Amendment and gave the state 30 days to respond. No resolution has been reached in that action.
Skyline’s lawsuit, which began in a federal district court in southern California in 2016, was dismissed by that court in 2018. The church appealed and argued its case to the 9th Circuit last November, which this week ruled that the lower court had improperly dismissed the church’s case. That means Skyline can now have its day in court, where its claims that California has violated both federal and state law will now receive a full and fair hearing.
No church should be forced by the government to compromise its deeply held beliefs in order to provide benefits for its employees. Pray for the success of Skyline’s ongoing effort to vindicate the religious freedom not only for itself, but for all the churches and religious organizations in California.
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