In 2018, Washington enacted SB 6219, a law that requires health plans to provide coverage for abortion services. Cedar Park Assembly of God, a church that objects to abortion, sued the state, arguing that SB 6219 violates its rights under the Free Exercise Clause and under a legal doctrine known as the “ecclesiastical-abstention doctrine.”
The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington rejected Cedar Park’s Free Exercise and ecclesiastical-abstention arguments and dismissed the case. Specifically, the court held that the ecclesiastical-abstention doctrine was inapplicable because SB 6219 does not implicate the types of ecclesiastical decisions protected by the doctrine. Cedar Park appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
On January 29, 2024, Americans United, along with Interfaith Alliance, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, and the Sikh Coalition, filed an amicus brief in support of the state. Our brief explained that ecclesiastical abstention is irrelevant in this case because SB 6219 does not affect Cedar Park’s authority to shape its own religious doctrine. We also argued that Cedar Park’s attempt to expand the ecclesiastical-abstention doctrine is ahistorical, unworkable, and would effectively abrogate key aspects of First Amendment jurisprudence.