Court of Appeals Asked to Strike Down California Mandate Forcing Church to Pay for Elective Abortions

Skyline Church filed its opening brief in the Ninth Circuit last week, asking the court of appeals to rule that the California state government cannot force the church to provide abortion coverage in its employee health plans. The Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF) and Alliance Defending Freedom are representing the San Diego-area church, which is led by nationally recognized pastor Jim Harlow.

After facing pressure from pro-abortion groups like Planned Parenthood, California’s Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) abruptly issued a mandate in August 2014 that stripped abortion-coverage exemptions for pro-life religious organizations. Skyline Church sued, arguing that the mandate violates its sincerely held religious beliefs about elective abortions. Earlier this year, U.S. District Court in Southern California dismissed Skyline Church’s case, refusing to consider the church’s First Amendment defenses.

“California bureaucrats are forcing Skyline Church to either violate its religious beliefs or suffer crippling financial consequences. In doing so, the government is running roughshod over the First Amendment and trampling on the church’s right to operate according to its religious beliefs.”

Daniel Piedra, FCDF’s Executive Director

The DMHC based its mandate on a state law that requires employer health plans cover “basic health care services.” Up until it started meeting with Planned Parenthood and ACLU representatives, government officials had not interpreted “basic health care services” to include voluntary and elective abortions. The government issued the mandate without Skyline Church’s knowledge.

The brief argues that the government mandate is forcing Skyline Church’s group health plan to include coverage for voluntary and elective abortions, which violates its rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

“The DMHC and its director were well aware that Skyline Church is doctrinally opposed to elective abortions. Based on the record, it is clear that the government purposefully targeted the church for its Christian beliefs. In doing so, the government imposed a penalty on the church’s free exercise of religion that cannot pass muster under the First Amendment.”

Daniel Piedra, FCDF’s Executive Director

Skyline Church believes that elective abortion is a sin and incompatible with the Bible’s teachings. As a member of the Wesleyan denomination, Skyline Church teaches that abortion is permissible only in rare pregnancies where there are grave medical conditions threatening the life of the mother.

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