A group of California churches won a major religious liberty victory Thursday when a federal court ruled that the state of California cannot force them to cover abortion in their insurance plans.
At issue was a rule by the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) that requires companies to offer insurance plans that cover abortion.
Three California churches – Foothill Church, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills and Shepherd of the Hills Church – subsequently sued the state after being denied insurance that did not include abortion coverage.
On Thursday, U.S. District Chief Judge Kimberly Mueller, an Obama nominee, sided with the churches, ruling that the state had violated the churches’ rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution’s First Amendment. That clause says Congress shall make no law “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion.
The state’s action, Mueller wrote, imposes a “substantial burden” on their religious liberty.
Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the churches, applauded the decision.
“The government can’t force a church or any other religious employer to violate their faith and conscience by participating in funding abortion,” said ADF senior counsel Jeremiah Galus. “For years, California has unconstitutionally targeted faith-based organizations, so we’re pleased the court has found this mandate unconstitutional and will allow the churches we represent to operate freely according to their religious beliefs.”
The churches, in their complaint to the court, had said the “sanctity of human life motivates the Churches’ ministries and outreach.”
“Because the Churches believe abortion is a sin, they cannot pay for or facilitate coverage for elective abortion in their employee healthcare plans,” the complaint said. “... Although DMHC had allowed religious organizations to obtain coverage consistent with their religious beliefs before, the DMHC director summarily announced in August 2014 that it was illegal for insurers to exclude or limit abortion coverage in their healthcare plans.”
Photo courtesy: Megan Allen/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.