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Washington State and Religious Liberty

Cedar Park Church pastor Jay Smith and his wife, Sandy
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By: Lathan Watts – nationalreview.com – September 1, 2023

The Constitution of the United States stands alone in its brilliance at incorporating the Western philosophical precepts of God-given human rights and of limited government instituted for their protection. As the oldest written constitution still in effect, its longevity testifies to the genius and principled dedication of its framers. George Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention, where the new covenant between the governing and the governed was established. Today, a state bearing his name is threatening the most fundamental American principles.

Through its attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, Cedar Park Church, northeast of Seattle, filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit after a lower court ruled that the church must violate its constitutionally protected pro-life religious beliefs and abide by the state’s mandate that Washington employers provide abortion coverage for employees.

In July 2021, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision to dismiss Cedar Park’s case, filed after Senate Bill 6219 was signed into law in Washington State in March 2018. The law requires most employers to provide coverage for abortion if they also offer maternity care coverage to their employees. Penalties for violating the law include fines and possibly imprisonment. The district court has now ruled against the church again, this time on the merits, prompting the appeal.

S.B. 6219 includes no religious exemption for health plans of organizations like Cedar Park. So it seems that lawmakers in the State of Washington are targeting people of faith for coercion of the worst sort. The message is clear: Adhere to state-dictated ideological orthodoxy and violate your deepest held religious convictions, or suffer the consequences.

For citizens who hold religious beliefs at odds with the preferred doctrine of the State of Washington, this is not the first time that it has placed them in an untenable position. In some settings, they must either suppress expression of their beliefs or face censorship by their government. In 2018, Washington passed a law that allows government officials to censor private conversations between counselors and their clients. Between individuals and their chosen counselor, the law prohibits any conversation in which the counselor seeks to help the client achieve comfort with his or her sex or reduce unwanted same-sex attractions. The prohibition applies even to clients who desire such counseling to help them bring their hearts, minds, and conduct in line with the teachings of their faith.

Brian Tingley is a licensed counselor who has been practicing in Washington State for more than 20 years. During that time, he has helped adults, couples, teenagers, and children identify and achieve the goals that they set for themselves, consistent with their own moral values and religious beliefs. With Brian’s assistance, they have pursued meaningful and positive changes in their sense of identity.

Now, if Brian has such discussions with his clients, he faces fines up to $5,000 per violation, suspension from practice, and even loss of his license and livelihood. His attorneys, also with Alliance Defending Freedom, filed a cert petition with the U.S. Supreme Court in the hope that it will uphold his First Amendment rights of free speech and free exercise of religion.

In 1789, George Washington, addressing the General Committee representing the United Baptist Churches of Virginia, declared, “If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitution framed by the Convention, where I had the honor to preside, might possibly endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical Society, certainly I would never have placed my signature to it. . . . I beg you will be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against every species of religious persecution.”

If government officials in the state of Washington will not desist from their attempts to criminalize and censor the religious beliefs of citizens they claim to serve, they should at least extend to George Washington the courtesy of removing his name from a state that rejects the very liberty he cherished most.

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Source: Washington State Abandons Religious Liberty | National Review