Skyline Wesleyan Church
Skyline Wesleyan Church in La Mesa. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

By Jeremiah J. Galus

Since its first Sunday gathering in the summer of 1954, pastors and leaders at Skyline Wesleyan Church in the San Diego area have called upon their congregation to live out the implications of their faith, to practice what they preach.

That’s what led Skyline’s leaders to go out of their way to select the very best employee insurance policy for their staff, who spend their work week serving Skyline members and the surrounding community. One non-negotiable about the policy was that not one dime would go toward elective abortions. That caveat was hardly a discussion among Skyline leaders, who are convinced by scripture that human life is sacred from the moment of conception until natural death.

On Aug. 22, 2014, however, an unelected state regulatory agency in California issued a letter to Skyline’s insurance carrier that pulled the rug out from under the church’s leaders. The letter said that, effective immediately, Skyline’s health plan must cover all abortions—taking money from the church’s offering plates and putting it in the hands of the abortion industry.

Opinion logo

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the letter expressly told Skyline’s insurance carrier that it did not have to notify the church about the change at all. It wasn’t until October—when the church reached out to its insurer—that the leadership team even knew their flock was being fleeced by abortionists in the state.

Four years after the fact, let me assure you: This sudden change was brought about through the direct pressure of pro-abortion advocates.

This bureaucratic nightmare started a year after two Catholic colleges—Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara University—announced they were removing elective abortion coverage from their employee healthcare plans to align with Catholic teaching on abortion and the sanctity of life.

While that move was lauded by fellow Catholics, it received pure vitriol from the abortion industry. Within days of news breaking that Catholic universities dared to be Catholic, a floodgate of emails, phone calls, and meetings opened between California’s Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC), Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the National Health Law Program.

By December of 2013, DMHC was working in tandem with the trio of abortion lobbyists to make sure Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara were stopped cold and no other religious organizations could jump ship.

The following spring, Planned Parenthood’s legal team sent the DMHC its “analysis,” which proposed a wholescale reinterpretation of a 40-year-old state law—the Knox-Keene Act—to include elective abortions as a mandatory element of all healthcare insurance policies.

Even though Planned Parenthood’s proposal flew in the face of decades of interpretation of the Knox-Keene Act—and intentionally bypassed the democratic process in favor of what Planned Parenthood called “an administrative solution in lieu of legislation”—the DMHC eventually took the bait, leading to the Aug. 22 letter to health insurers.

So much is wrong with the DMHC colluding with the abortion industry. But it should be uncontroversial that churches must be free to operate according to their faith without government interference, especially when it comes to charged issues like abortion.

That’s the guarantee enshrined for every American in the First Amendment, as well as for every Californian in the state’s constitution. This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that very truth in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra, stopping California’s attempt at forcing pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise for abortions in violation of their faith.

Skyline Church should never be forced to foot the bill for an elective abortion, or be required to sacrifice its conscience, just so its employees can have the healthcare they need. In fact, the church shouldn’t have even needed to defend these principles in court. The Constitution is clear that churches have the right to act consistently with their religious beliefs. Yet that’s exactly what California is keeping Skyline Church from doing here.

Now it’s up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to hold California bureaucrats accountable and allow Skyline’s leaders the freedom to practice what they preach.

Jeremiah J. Galus is legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents Skyline Wesleyan Church.