Once again, California goes in wrong direction

Editor’s Note: It is important to watch what happens in California and other left-leaning states like Washington, Massachusetts and New York because what is pushed there is often presented to Kentucky in the ensuing years.

In 2014, bureaucrats in the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) decided to negate the religious liberty and freedom of conscience of every church in California. This strategy was implemented without legislative action or the knowledge of taxpayers and churches.

Churches first learned of the change in California policy when it was time to re-enroll in their employee insurance plans. It was then that they were told by their insurance companies that they had no option but to buy insurance plans that covered elective abortion. There was no opt-out offered by the insurance companies or by the state.

In two separate suits, four churches have since asked the DMHC for relief from the mandate.

One of those churches is Skyline Wesleyan, founded in 1954. Skyline’s attorneys stated that abortion is incompatible with the church’s belief that every human life is valuable and deserving of protection. Furthermore, Skyline only employs church members who share its beliefs.

Skyline’s attorneys allege that in order to force pro-life churches to pay for their employee’s elective abortions, DMHC reinterpreted a 1975 law. This was done “behind closed doors” with no public notice or comment period.

During trial preparation, the plaintiff’s attorneys uncovered multiple emails exchanged between Planned Parenthood officials and DMHC urging the change to the policy. The emails also referenced meetings between DMHC officials, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that government hostility toward religious beliefs and people of faith is unconstitutional. However, the federal District Court denied relief to the church. Skyline Church appealed and oral arguments were heard on Nov. 4, in the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In August of 2014, the church’s legal brief, filed with the court, stated that DMHC sent a letter to insurance companies “ordering immediate coverage of elective abortions and advising them that they could omit any reference to abortion coverage in plan documents, effectively obscuring the new abortion coverage mandate from the churches effected.”

“This blatant disinformation from the DMHC is scandalous,” said Joyce Ostrander, policy analyst for The Family Foundation. “It’s deliberate and strategically planned government malfeasance.”

Skyline’s attorney, Jeremiah Galus explained, “The Department of Managed Health Care is misguided in its attempts to force a church to pay for elective abortions. The agency has unconstitutionally targeted religious organizations, repeatedly collaborated with pro-abortion advocates, and failed to follow the appropriate administrative procedures to institute this unprecedented mandate.”

Galus maintains that Churches have the freedom to set internal policies, prioritizing the protection of human life from conception to natural death. And he asserts that the Constitution protects that freedom.

Regardless of how the Court of Appeals rules, some believe this case may eventually be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision is expected by the Court of Appeals in2020, which would suggest that the earliest the case could be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court would be in 2021.In the meantime, California churches are in suspense.

“Kentucky citizens need to be vigilant to hold our government officials and agencies accountable, said Ostrander. “The law does not permit the government to single out or target people of faith.”

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