While in high school, Jay Smith and his girlfriend Sandy found out she was pregnant.
But instead of getting an abortion, they got married and welcomed the first of four daughters into the world.
Now a senior pastor at a Seattle-area church, Smith is fighting an abortion law he feels is a “slap in the face.”
Pastor Jay Smith of Cedar Park Church filed a lawsuit last year over a state law that requires churches to cover elective abortions in their health insurance plans.
The church filed its opening brief in early September asking the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to reverse a lower court decision that had dismissed the church’s lawsuit.
“We’re standing for the rights of people of faith to not be forced into being complicit with something inconsistent with our faith,” Smith told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer when the suit was filed.
Washington State’s Reproductive Parity Act, which was passed in March 2008, requires churches to provide coverage for abortions if the church also offers maternity care to its employees.
It also requires health insurance plans issued or renewed after Jan. 1, 2019 to provide deductible-free coverage for all contraceptive drugs and devices.
Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee, one of the most liberal governors in the country, hailed the law as “a big step forward in guaranteeing women’s access to a full range of reproductive health care services.”
Cedar Park Church, an Assembly of God church in Bothell, Wash., has a congregation of about 1,500 members and 185 employees to whom it offers health coverage.
As a result of state law SB 6219, its insurance carrier inserted abortion coverage into the church’s health plan and refused to remove it unless the courts held the state law unconstitutional.
The church argues in its lawsuit that the law violates its pro-life religious beliefs and religious rights guaranteed under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
“Abortion is the antithesis of who we are as an organization, what our beliefs are, and how we live our faith,” Smith said.
The church is being represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a non-profit religious liberty advocacy group that’s taken high-profile cases to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“No church should be forced to cover abortions, and certainly not a church that dedicates its ministry to protecting and celebrating life like Cedar Park does,” ADF legal counsel Elissa Graves told CBN.
“Cedar Park believes and teaches that every human life begins at conception and is worthy of protection until natural death, so providing insurance coverage for abortions is clearly not something the church can or should be forced to do.”
ADF argues that Cedar Park practices its pro-life beliefs by partnering with a local pregnancy care center, hosting an annual camp for foster children, and ministering to couples struggling with infertility.
“The state has no legitimate legal basis to force this church—or any other—into contradicting its foundational belief that human life is sacred,” Graves said.
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 lawsuit argues that the sponsors of SB 6219 “deliberately targeted” churches, intentionally violating their religious beliefs. When churches protested, the state suggested “they sue if they did not wish to comply.”
“Washington state is bullying churches and other religious non-profits through the force of law, compelling them to violate their beliefs by covering abortions in their health plans. That’s why we have asked the 9th Circuit to take a look at this case,” ADF vice president of Appellate Advocacy and Senior Counsel, John Bursch, told CBN.
Cedar Park and the ADF believe they have legal precedent on their side. The 9th Circuit recently ruled that a district court was wrong to dismiss a similar ADF case in California.
And Bursch points out that the Supreme Court has consistently held that government hostility towards people of faith is unconstitutional.
“Washington state’s policy is indeed hostile,” he said. “It crushes dissent and violates the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause by targeting the church’s legitimate internal policies and religious beliefs.”
Washington State has been one of the most aggressive states in the nation to fight pro-life initiatives and enact pro-abortion legislation. The state’s attorney general has challenged the Trump administration’s new Title X rules, which would prohibit clinics receiving federal money from making abortion referrals and requires abortion facilities to be separate from family planning buildings.
But now it faces its own serious challenge on abortion rights.
Smith says the Washington state law “felt like a slap in the face.”
“Cedar Park believes and teaches that abortion violates the Bible’s command against the intentional destruction of innocent human life,” the lawsuit says.
Said Elissa Graves, the ADF legal counsel: “The state of Washington has no business coercing this church, or any other, into contradicting the deeply held beliefs that motivate its ministry.”