By Bob Allen
Baptist organizations including the Southern Baptist Convention’s insurance provider got temporary relief Aug. 21 from an Affordable Care Act requirement that employers include in their employee health care plans drugs and devices they believe cause abortion.
A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a request by faith-based charities including GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, Reaching Souls International and Georgia Baptist-related Truett-McConnell College that the government be blocked from levying fines against employers who defy the contraceptive mandate until the U.S. Supreme Court decides if it will take up their case on appeal.
The Denver-based appeals court previously ruled against GuideStone in a lawsuit claiming that government rules for opting out of the mandate are inadequate to protect the religious liberty of faith-based nonprofits with moral objections to Obamacare.
GuideStone doesn’t have to worry about crippling fines because churches and their “integrated auxiliaries” are exempt from the contraceptive mandate, but some of the ministries it covers are not.
GuideStone contends that the government is trying to rewrite the religious entity’s own plan to facilitate coverage of “morning-after” pills and intrauterine devices that take effect after conception has occurred.
“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,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said recently.
“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,” Hawkins said. “It is our high calling and deep privilege to serve these families who seek to live out their calling each and every day.”
The 10th Circuit rejected GuideStone’s argument in July, saying it is not the opt-out procedure that facilitates the contested coverage, but rather federal regulations requiring that it be made available to employees through a third party.
Friday’s decision to keep a temporary injunction in place pending appeal combines three cases with plaintiffs including an order of Catholic nuns, Oklahoma Baptist University and Reaching Souls International, an Oklahoma nonprofit that relies on GuideStone for health care but does not qualify as a church or integrated auxiliary automatically exempt from the contraceptive mandate.
A decision by the Supreme Court on whether to hear any of the appeals is expected this fall.
Meanwhile, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Aug. 21 that the religious accommodation for the contraceptive mandate does not substantially burden the religious exercise of six Catholic groups in Tennessee and Michigan.