By Bob Allen
GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention had a day in court Dec. 8, arguing before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver that required coverage of contraceptives under Obamacare substantially burdens its religious freedom.
GuideStone, Baptist-affiliated Truett-McConnell College in Georgia and Reaching Souls International, an Oklahoma-based missions organization, joined as plaintiffs in one of three lawsuits argued Monday on behalf of religious nonprofits who object to the contraception mandate on moral grounds.
The Affordable Care Act exempts houses of worship from the requirement but not organizations like faith-based colleges and hospitals that employ people outside of their faith and serve a broader audience than the local church.
The government crafted an accommodation allowing such employers with sincere religious objections to opt out, as long as coverage of FDA-approved forms of birth control are covered cost-free through a third-party vendor.
Religious groups including GuideStone, Catholic nuns in Colorado and Christian colleges including Oklahoma Baptist University contend in the three lawsuits that the act of filing a form with the government indicating their refusal still makes them complicit in the sale of intrauterine devices and emergency contraceptive pills that they believe kill a living embryo and therefore are not birth control but abortion.
Attorney Adam Jed of the U.S. Department of Justice said the government has a compelling state interest in including contraceptive coverage in women’s health care, and requiring those who work for religious employers to go find it on their own substantially hinders that goal.
“There are a number of studies that show that sometimes when there are not particularly large burdens to somebody obtaining something like contraceptive coverage or vaccines or any other important medical good, that sometimes people don’t get those goods,” Jed said. “And specifically with respect to contraceptive coverage, there is data that shows that as a result there are a large number of unintended pregnancies.”
Attorney Greg Baylor, who represented both GuideStone and the Christian colleges, said by treating his clients differently than formal houses of worship and their integrated auxiliaries, the government is making distinctions based on how an organization receives its funds.
“If you stand close enough that the big church provides more than 50 percent of your funding, then we’ll let you off the hook, but if you run your ministry a little bit further away from the church, even if you’re offering the exact same religious objection, we will crush you with fines unless you fill out our paperwork and trigger our system,” he said. “There’s no reason for the government to be able to do that.”
Jed argued that instead of making the employer with religious objections a party to contraceptive coverage, the form is rather an instrument that “actually takes away the obligation from the original administrator … that otherwise they would have.”
“It’s not that the employer has to tell Blue Cross Blue Shield, ‘OK, I’m now requiring you to provide contraceptive coverage.’ Rather that obligation is being imposed by law in the same way that if you opt out of the draft then the government will have someone else go fight on the front line themselves,” he said.
Baylor said the plaintiffs don’t object in principle to “raising their hand” to inform the goverment that they are opting out of the mandate or to the government providing coverage once they refuse, but under the current plan what the government is saying “we’ll take over your plan to provide the drugs.”
GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said for him it’s a matter of defending the sanctity of human life.
“We appreciate the opportunity to continue advocating on behalf of our participants in standing up for their religious freedom,” Hawkins said in a press release. “Our plans reflect the convictions of Southern Baptists and other evangelicals and do not cover drugs and devices that are intended to cause abortions.”