The Bothell-based Cedar Park Church, a religious right bastion in secular, liberal terrain, is suing to overturn a state law requiring that health insurers offering maternity care coverage also cover abortion services.
The challenge is to the Reproductive Parity Act, championed by such groups as Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, and signed into law last year by Gov. Jay Inslee.
“We are resisting the state imposing their religious belies on the church under penalty of fines and imprisonment,” Rev. Joe Fuiten, pastor emeritus and a longtime Christian conservative activist, wrote in a Facebook message.
“We’re standing for the rights of people of faith to not be forced into being complicit with something inconsistent with our faith,” added Rev. Jay Smith, senior pastor at the church.
Cedar Park, an Assembly of God congregation, draws about 1,500 worshipers on a given Sunday, and has 185 employees to whom it offers health coverage.
“Abortion is the antithesis of who we are as an organization, what our beliefs are, and how we live our faith,” Smith added.
The church’s suit is being handled by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based group which has taken high profile cases to the U.S. Supreme Court.
It argued the case of Masterpiece Cake Shop vs. Colorado, in which justices affirmed the right of a Lakewood, Colorado, baker who refused on religious grounds to provide a wedding cake to a same-sex couple.
The Alliance has also represented Baronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, who refused to provide wedding flowers to a same sex couple. Attorney General Bob Ferguson won a penalty against Stutzman for violating the state’s anti-discrimination law.
Of the Cedar Park suit, ADF legal counsel Elissa Graves commented: “The state of Washington has no business coercing this church, or any other, into contradicting the deeply held beliefs that motivate its ministry.”
The Supreme Court remanded the Stutzman case back to the Washington State Supreme Court, ordering it to reconsider its prior ruling in light of the Masterpiece Cake Shop decision.
“Conservatives now cite the (U.S. Constitution’s) free exercise clause to allow religious people to exempt themselves from obligations that are binding on all other citizens,” Jeffrey Toobin wrote earlier this month in The New Yorker.
When the Legislature passed its Reproductive Parity Act last year, Gov. Inslee described it as “a big step forward in guaranteeing women’s access to a full range of reproductive health care services.”
The Act also requires health insurance plans issued or renewed after January 1, 2019, to provide deductible-free coverage for all contraceptive drugs and devices.
The Washington State Constitution states:
“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.”
The church’s senior pastor has a personal interest that goes beyond doctrine. Smith and his wife Sandy dated in high school and planned to marry after graduation. She found taht she was pregnant, briefly considered abortion, but later gave birth to the first of the couple’s four daughters.
The Reproductive Parity Act “felt like a slap in the face” to the Smiths, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom.
Washington voted to legalize abortion in 1970, three years before the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision made abortion legal across the country. The state’s voters strengthened abortion rights in 1991.
Attorney General Ferguson has sued to block new Trump Administration regulations that would allow insurers to deny contraceptive coverage based on religious or moral objections.
The AG has also gone to court challenging the Trump administration’s Title X rules, which would forbid clinics receiving federal money from providing abortion referrals, and require complete physical separation of abortion services from family planning.
But the state now finds itself on the other end of a federal lawsuit.
In words of the church’s suit, “Cedar Park believes and teaches that abortion violates the Bible’s command against the intentional destruction of innocent human life.”