DALLAS (BP) -- The Southern Baptist Convention's health and financial benefits entity has filed its first-ever lawsuit against the federal government in a legal challenge to the Obama administration's abortion/contraception mandate.
|"We reluctantly take this step because we are committed to protecting the unborn and preserving the religious freedom that is guaranteed under the laws of this nation." |
-- O.S. Hawkins
GuideStone Financial Resources and two of the organizations that take part in the entity's health plans filed the federal suit Oct. 11 in Oklahoma City. Joining GuideStone in the suit were Oklahoma City-based Reaching Souls International and Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga.
The suit contends the religious liberty of the entities and other non-church-related organizations covered by GuideStone's health plan, is violated by a rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services to implement the 2010 health-care law. The HHS regulation requires employers to pay for coverage of workers' contraceptives, including drugs that can cause abortions, but does not provide an exemption for entities like those that filed suit.
"GuideStone plans do not cover drugs or devices that can or do cause abortions," GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said in a written release from the entity Monday (Oct. 14).
"We reluctantly take this step because we are committed to protecting the unborn and preserving the religious freedom that is guaranteed under the laws of this nation," he said. "This mandate runs rough-shod over these foundational principles."
GuideStone has protested a series of "final" rules issued during the last two years by HHS on contraceptive coverage, joining the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Southern Baptist leaders -- as well as evangelical and Roman Catholic organizations -- in opposing the mandate and its lack of adequate conscience protections for religious employers.
After GuideStone failed to achieve satisfactory results through legislative and regulatory processes, Hawkins signaled to the Southern Baptist Executive Committee in September the entity would file suit.
"From the outset of this unacceptable mandate, GuideStone has diligently pursued a number of avenues with Congress and the Administration to protect those we serve," Hawkins said in his Oct. 14 statement. "While we have secured some partial relief, it does not go far enough. Many ministry organizations are still in harm's way despite the fact that they also share core convictions regarding the sanctity of life."
The lawsuit cites 16 counts against HHS and its mandate, including violations of the First Amendment's free exercise and establishment clauses and the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Foes of the abortion/contraception mandate say HHS has provided adequate conscience protections for churches and affiliated auxiliaries, but not for other religious institutions.
The suit seeks a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the mandate until the judicial process is complete. GuideStone and its fellow plaintiffs face heavy financial penalties for noncompliance. The mandate will take effect Jan. 1, 2014, for GuideStone. Read More