Go to church? You could save on your insurance

DES MOINES (AP) – Churchgoers and religious volunteers will receive special discounts on their home and car insurance under a new product line launched by GuideOne Insurance.

The West Des Moines-based company, which specializes in insuring churches and private schools, said its new “FaithGuard” product line is a natural extension of its coverage of 45,000 churches nationwide.

The Iowa Civil Liberties Union on Thursday criticized the line, saying it appears to violate laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religious views. The group predicted a nonreligious customer would challenge the policies in court.

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“They are making religious distinctions between their customers, and they are treating some customers better than others based on those distinctions,” said Randall Wilson, the group’s legal director. “How is that not religious discrimination?”

Under the policies, the faithful would not have to pay a deductible if they are in a car accident on the way to church activities, and they would receive double medical coverage in such accidents. Churchgoers would not have to pay a deductible if they lose personal property while at church.

Both home and auto policies would provide up to $750 to cover a policyholder’s church donations, or tithing.

The policies will also give discounts to pastors, drivers who do not drink, and homeowners who do not smoke. A nonsmoker, for instance, will get a 5 percent discount on home insurance.

The company says the coverage is nondenominational and that it will take the word of policyholders on whether they regularly attend church, which it considers as at least once every two weeks.

“Temple, mosque, church – these benefits apply to any religion,” said Jim Wallace, GuideOne’s chief executive.

GuideOne said insurance regulators in 18 states had approved the policies without raising questions about discrimination. The company said the policies were launched in a pilot program in Kansas City, Mo., and Springield, Mo., last August and had positive reviews.

The company said it insures people who are not churchgoers under other policies.

Jan Beckstrom, GuideOne’s executive vice president, said of the FaithGuard policies: “We feel they are only appealing and of benefit to people who do attend church. Therefore, we do not feel that there is any discrimination at all.”

For instance, she said, the policy will cover church donations, or tithing, for people who become disabled and cannot meet their obligations. Only churchgoers would be interested in such a benefit, she said.

Larry Hershberger, director of the University of Iowa’s Institute of Risk Management and Insurance, said the plans are unusual. He said they are a smart move from a business perspective because the homeowners and motorists the company will target are likely to be low-risk.

One downside, he noted, was that the policies would come under a microscope to ensure they are nondiscriminatory.

Paul Benson, who drove about 2,000 miles last year coordinating food collections in local stores, said the extra coverage was welcome.

“It might be a good idea, if it saved me money and provided a little extra coverage,” said Benson, a member of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Des Moines.

David Bartemes, who was boxing food at the St. Mary’s Family Center in Des Moines, said he’s more concerned with making insurance affordable to poor Iowans than rewarding people who don’t necessarily need the perks.

“My fear is that it’s a marketing ploy that benefits the people who need it the least,” Bartemes said.

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Associated Press, via Omaha.com, USA
Mar. 6, 2005

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