California officials have agreed to pay $1.4 million to a handful of churches that challenged the state’s mandate for health insurance plans to include coverage for abortions.
Four churches filed two lawsuits, one in 2015 and one in 2016, objecting to the mandate because of their belief in the sanctity of life. Two federal courts in California ultimately ruled that the First Amendment protects the churches’ right to decline abortion coverage in their health insurance plans. Given the rulings, state officials agreed to pay $1.4 million toward the four churches’ attorneys’ fees, attorneys with the nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) announced last week.
Foothill Church in Glendora, Calvary Chapel of Chino Hills in Chino, and Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch sued the Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) in 2015 over the mandate. The ADF filed the second lawsuit in 2016 on behalf of Skyline Wesleyan Church near San Diego.
A judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California issued a permanent injunction on February 2 in the Foothill Church case, ruling that the mandate violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
Then on May 9, state Attorney General Rob Bonta submitted an agreement that the state department would pay the churches in the first case $500,000 in attorney fees by June 30.
Two days later, in the second lawsuit, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California ruled in favor of Skyline Wesleyan Church. The judge ordered state officials to pay the church $900,000 in attorney fees by June 30.
According to ADF:
“The government can’t force a church or any other religious employer to violate their faith and conscience by participating in funding abortion,” ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus said in a statement.
“For years, California officials, in collaboration with Planned Parenthood, have unconstitutionally targeted faith-based organizations,” Galus continued. “This is a significant victory for the churches we represent, the conscience rights of their members, and other religious organizations that shouldn’t be ordered by the government to violate some of their deepest faith convictions.”
The ADF noted that its attorneys discovered emails during the lawsuit that allegedly showing that the California Department of Managed Health Care issued the mandate in response to demands from the abortion giant Planned Parenthood.
Those demands asked agency officials to implement a ‘fix’ requiring the health plans of religious organizations to include coverage for abortion, regardless of moral or conscientious objections and despite state recognition up to that point that religious groups shouldn’t be subject to such requirements. The abortion giant threatened to promote its own legislative ‘solution’ if the administrative agency didn’t act, so DMHC issued its mandate in 2014.
The cases are Foothill Church v. Watanabe, No. 2:15-cv-2165 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, and Skyline Wesleyan Church v. California Department of Managed Health Care, No. 3:16-cv-501 in the United States District Court Southern District of California.