By Tom Strode, Baptist Press
WASHINGTON (BP) — Three Southern Baptist entities have called on a federal appeals court to protect the religious liberty of the convention’s health and financial benefits organization.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed May 27, GuideStone Financial Resources received support from sister entities in its challenge to the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), International Mission Board (IMB), Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr. called in the brief for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to uphold a lower court’s preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the requirement for the time being.
GuideStone and two of the organizations that participate in its health plans filed a class-action suit against a rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that requires employers to provide for their workers drugs and devices that potentially can cause abortions.
In their brief, the ERLC, IMB, SBTS and Mohler say the Bible and Southern Baptist doctrine teach it is a sin to support directly or indirectly the killing of an unborn child through abortion. “Accordingly, a statute or regulation requiring a Southern Baptist individual or ministry to be complicit in conduct that the Christian faith teaches is morally wrong forces that person or ministry into an impossible choice — to either violate conscience or violate the law -– and imposes a substantial burden on the exercise of religion,” the brief says.
SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said in a statement for Baptist Press, “We are determined to stand with GuideStone in this righteous and necessary cause.
“Nothing less than religious liberty is at stake, and Baptists have been from the beginnings of our history on the front lines of defending religious freedom,” Mohler said. “That freedom is directly threatened by the unconstitutional and aggressively coercive policy of the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.
“We are proud to stand with GuideStone, and now is the time to take that stand.”
The HHS regulation, which is part of the implementation of the 2010 health care law, requires coverage of federally approved contraceptives, including the intrauterine device (IUD) and such drugs as Plan B, the “morning-after” pill. Both the IUD and “morning-after” pill possess post-fertilization mechanisms that potentially can cause abortions by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella,” which — in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 — can even act after implantation to end the life of the child.
The brief filed by the SBC entities and Mohler contends the HHS rule’s imposition of “draconian fines” in reaction to actions “specifically mandated by Christian doctrine” place a substantial burden on the religious free exercise of GuideStone and the nearly 190 ministries for which it provides health benefits.
The abortion/contraception mandate violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), according to the brief. RFRA requires the government to have a compelling interest and use the narrowest means in burdening a person’s religious exercise.
In the brief, the ERLC, IMB, Southern Seminary and Mohler point to a series of pro-life resolutions adopted by messengers at SBC annual meetings for more than three decades. Southern Baptists “have a firm and well-known theological opposition to abortion, and the Southern Baptist Convention has repeatedly expressed its opposition to abortion in the strongest terms,” according to the brief.
Christian doctrine, including that of Southern Baptists, teaches followers of Christ to apply their beliefs to every part of life, the brief says. As a result of such a comprehensive view, GuideStone and its partners, “as a matter of doctrine and conscience, cannot distribute abortion-inducing drugs and devices either directly or indirectly by authorizing, obligation, or incentivizing a third party to provide such drugs and devices to others,” according to the brief.
ERLC President Russell D. Moore stated, “There won’t be a government bureaucrat standing beside a person at the Judgment Seat, so there shouldn’t be a government bureaucrat standing between a person and his conscience. A government that can coerce the conscience is a government that has overstepped it God-appointed bounds. We are proud to stand with Guidestone and for the cause of religious liberty.”
Among other organizations filing briefs May 27 in support of GuideStone, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, were the Christian Legal Society, National Association of Evangelicals, Prison Fellowship, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Christian Medical Association, American Center for Law and Justice, Concerned Women for America and Americans United for Life.
HHS provided an exemption to the rule, which was first proposed in August 2011, for churches and their auxiliaries but did not extend it to non-church-related, nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies that object. The Obama administration also offered an accommodation for non-church-related religious organizations, but critics said it was inadequate because it still forces such groups to provide access to the drugs through third parties.
Joining GuideStone in its suit are Truett-McConnell College, a Baptist college in Cleveland, Ga., and Oklahoma City-based Reaching Souls International. A federal court in Oklahoma City issued the preliminary injunction in the case.
More than 300 parties — some nonprofit organizations and some for-profit corporations — have combined to file 97 lawsuits against HHS, according to the Becket Fund, which has led the diverse effort challenging the mandate.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in late March in a case involving two for-profit businesses, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, that have challenged the abortion/contraception mandate. The high court is expected to announce its decision in the case before it adjourns in late June or early July.
The cases involving nonprofits such as GuideStone have yet to work their way up to the Supreme Court.
In the combined Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood case, the ERLC signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Christian Legal Society in support of the corporations. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and its president, Daniel Akin, and Southern Baptist pastor and author Rick Warren joined in another brief on behalf of the businesses in the Supreme Court case.
Truett-McConnell College is affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention, and Reaching Souls is a missions organization that trains Africans to reach their continent with the Gospel of Christ.
GuideStone, which is based in Dallas, serves not only churches but missions organizations, schools, hospitals and other ministries. In addition to health and other insurance coverage, GuideStone also offers retirement, investment management, property and casualty coverage and other services.
The Becket Fund and the Dallas law firm Locke Lord LLP filed the lawsuit.