An agency that provides retirement and insurance plans for ministers has filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court against the government’s contraceptive mandate that will require certain ministries served by the agency to provide abortion-causing drugs and devices in their employer health plans or risk crippling fines.
GuideStone Financial Resources, along with churches and integrated auxiliaries of churches, are exempt from the mandate and not at risk of penalties. For certain religious employers other than churches and their integrated auxiliaries, however, the government has argued that it offers an “accommodation” to religious employers who object to the mandate.
Harold R. Loftin Jr., GuideStone general counsel, said the entity “has, from the filing of our case, objected to the so-called ‘accommodation’ because the government is attempting to rewrite the terms of GuideStone’s plan” to use the plan “to provide access to drugs and devices GuideStone believes to be impermissible. In addition, the government’s regulations attempt to require certain of GuideStone’s religious employers to take actions that facilitate the delivery of abortion-inducing drugs and devices to our participants and their dependents.”
Loftin noted that the evidence presented in court “showed that women, as young as age 10, will be notified of their eligibility to receive abortion-inducing drugs and devices for free by GuideStone’s third-party administrator, if the religious employer complies with the government’s demands. If the employer refuses, then it will be subject to crippling penalties for its refusal.”
A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver on July 14 overruled injunction in place since December 2013 that prohibited the government from enforcing its mandate on affected ministries served by GuideStone. As part of the appeal to the Supreme Court, GuideStone will ask the Denver court to maintain the injunction until the appeal has been decided.
“GuideStone was never at risk of these draconian penalties,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said. “However, as defenders of both religious liberty and the sanctity of life, we could not permit the government to effectively alter our plan documents and plan design with these affected ministries to make available abortion-causing drugs against our religious beliefs.
“If the courts have already seen fit to allow closely held, for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby to avoid the mandate and the associated penalties, it boggles the mind that the 10th Circuit Court wouldn’t also exempt nonprofit religious organizations that object,” Hawkins said.
GuideStone officials said they are optimistic that the Supreme Court will accept its appeal by the end of September. GuideStone, along with co-plaintiffs Truett-McConnell College and Reaching Souls International, an Oklahoma-based mission-sending organization, are represented by leading religious liberty attorneys who also represent a similar case that has received extensive publicity, the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic organization that also is among those appealing to the Supreme Court.
“The government has lost every single time they have made these arguments before the Supreme Court — including last year’s landmark Hobby Lobby case. One would think they would get the message and stop bullying ministries like Reaching Souls and Truett-McConnell College,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead attorney for GuideStone, Reaching Souls and Truett-McConnell.
Regardless of the outcome before the Supreme Court, Hawkins said GuideStone remains committed to the scores of ministries potentially affected by the mandate if the Supreme Court upholds it.
“If you had told me when I entered ministry that our federal government would be dictating matters of conscience to churches and their ministries, I would not have believed it,” Hawkins said. “These are indeed perilous times for the cause of liberty in our country, but GuideStone has never wavered, and will never waver, in our calling to serve those ministries that have entrusted their employee benefits to us. It is our high calling and deep privilege to serve these families who seek to live out their calling each and every day.”
The case is GuideStone vs. Burwell.
The mandate was imposed by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2010 in its implementation of Obamacare
Among numerous other cases challenging the HHS mandate, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals declined June 22 a request for an injunction from East Texas Baptist University, Houston Baptist University and Westminster Theological Seminary.
The two universities and Westminster Seminary also have appealed to the Supreme Court.
— by Roy Hayhurst | BP