University Of Washington Discontinues Christian Science Coverage (September 1994)

Foundation member Matthew J. Barry, a graduate student at the University of Washington, has succeeded in removing coverage of Christian Science “treatment” (prayer) from its Student Accident and Sickness Insurance Plan.

“And I didn’t even have to file a lawsuit this time!” he noted. Barry was a plaintiff in a lawsuit attempting to stop religious commencements at the University of Maryland several years ago. “It’s nice to win one,” Barry writes.

When he discovered that the University reimbursed Christian Science practitioners and nurses for prayer “treatment” of students, Barry wrote a letter of complaint to the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of Washington-Seattle. In his April 11, 1994 letter, he pointed out:

“By covering these religious activities, the University is financially supporting religious worship with public money. This violates the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution and Section 11 of Article 1 of the Washington State Constitution.”

Barry learned that an official lobbyist with the Christian Science Church initiated and succeeded in adding the coverage in 1976, with the blessings of the Assistant Attorney General, who claimed the plan did not violate section 28B.10.1040 of the Revised Code of Washington, reading:

“All institutions of higher education supported wholly or in part by state funds, and by whatsoever name so designated, shall be forever free from religious or sectarian control or influence.”

Barry wrote that the coverage clearly violated this section, as well as Section 11, Article 1 of the Washington State Constitution, reading: “No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment.”

He documented the “purely religious nature of Christian science treatment” by quoting the words of its founder, Mary Baker Eddy: “Christian Science repudiates the evidences of the senses and rests upon the supremacy of God . . . It places no faith in hygiene or drugs; it reposes all faith in mind, in spiritual power divinely directed.”

In Science and Healthy With Key to the Scriptures, Eddy declared: “Healing the sick and reforming the sinner are one and the same thing in Christian Science.” The Christian Science Church itself today maintains that believers “rely wholly on prayer and spiritual understanding for healing.” The function of its practitioners “consists entirely of heartfelt yet disciplined prayer,” according to past president Nathan Talbot.

“Christian Scientists have the right to believe what they choose to believe. Christian Scientist adults have the right to reject medical treatment for themselves. They have the right to hire spiritual healers to pray for them. But they do not have the right to expect the public to pay for their religious rituals. The University has no business using my insurance premiums or any other student’s premiums to subsidize religious practices and worship,” Barry’s letter concluded.

When Matthew Barry had not had a response in more than three months, he followed up with a second letter in July, also enlisting the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, and Rita and Doug Swan of Children’s Healthcare Is A Legal Duty, of which he is a member.

He received this one-line letter of compliance from the University, dated August 12:

“This is to let you know that, upon advice of counsel, the student accident and illness plan at the University of Washington is discontinuing care by Christian Science practitioners as a plan of benefit,” wrote Jeanne Holm, Assistant Vice President.

Adds Barry: “We are now trying to get UW to remove Christian Science treatment as a covered benefit from the employee plan. We may go after the plan that covers all state employees, as well. I’ll keep you apprised.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation