Last Thursday, August 25th, a federal district court ruled that a California mandate that forced churches to cover abortions is unconstitutional.
"This is a pretty important ruling because this is years-long battle that started all the way back in August 2014, when the California Department of Managed Health Care told all health insurance companies in the state that they had to provide coverage for elective abortion," details attorney Jeremiah Galus of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the law firm representing Foothill Church in Glendora, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino, and The Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch in their case.
This affected exclusively religious organizations and religious employers, because those were the only groups in California excluding abortion coverage in their healthcare plans.
Churches were not forced to pay for contraceptive coverage but were required to pay for elective abortion coverage.
"So what the federal district court ruled just the other day was that requiring churches to cover those types of procedures in their plans violates the Free Exercise Clause," Galus explains. "The basis for that ruling really was when you looked at the law that they were relying on, the law very clearly said that exemptions could be given for pretty much any reason -- that if they determined it was for a good cause or in the public interest to grant an exemption, that the department could do it. Yet they refused and refused for over eight years now to give an exemption to religious organizations and churches, and the court said that that was unconstitutional."
The Free Exercise Clause is what protects citizens' right to practice their religion as they please, so long as the practice does not run afoul of a "public morals" or a "compelling" governmental interest.
The district court has asked for briefing on what the remedies should look like. That will happen within the next 30 days.
"The state has the option to appeal the ruling," Galus continues. "Whether it will ultimately decide to do that is outside of my control and knowledge."
He urges people in California and beyond to pay attention to and care about this case, as other states are requiring this sort of coverage to be in healthcare plans.
"Even if you are in a state that is not requiring that, I think everyone ought to be concerned that a state government thought it was okay to force churches to participate in something that their religious beliefs teach is sin and wrong," the ADF attorney submits.
If the government can force churches to do that, then Galus warns that "none of us are safe."