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Seattle-area church to 9th Circuit: Don't let WA force us to pay for abortions

ADF attorneys representing Cedar Park Church file opening brief with federal appeals court
Sandy Smith and Jay Smith of Cedar Park sit next to each other smiling

SEATTLE – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a Seattle-area church filed their opening brief Wednesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit 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 has established that the government cannot compel religious organizations to act in violation of their sincerely held faith convictions. We urge the 9th Circuit to uphold 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. ADF attorneys have maintained in Cedar Park Assembly of God of Kirkland v. Kreidler that the state’s legal arguments are not supported by the facts of the case and don’t hold up to Supreme Court precedent.

“Washington offers real conscience protection to health care providers, religiously sponsored health carriers, and health care facilities. These religious objectors are exempt from including abortion coverage in their own employee health plans or paying for abortion coverage in any circumstance,” the opening brief explains. “Yet because Cedar Park is a church and not a healthcare-related entity, Washington forces it to (at least) indirectly include abortion and abortifacient contraceptives in its health plan. And the state authorizes health carriers to charge Cedar Park for this abortion coverage surreptitiously.”

“Cedar Park’s autonomy includes deciding whether including abortion and abortifacients in its healthcare plan violates the church’s faith and changes its religious teachings. The Constitution prohibits Washington from inserting itself into these internal church matters and coerc­ing Cedar Park to live according to a view of the Bible it believes to be false. [Washington state officials’] conduct has violated Cedar Park’s constitutional rights for more than four years,” the brief further notes.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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John Bursch
John Bursch
Senior Counsel, Vice President of Appellate Advocacy
John Bursch is senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy with Alliance Defending Freedom.