GuideStone, two others file litigation challenging contraceptive mandate

Article courtesy of GuideStone

DALLAS — GuideStone Financial Resources, along with Oklahoma-based Reaching Souls International and Truett-McConnell College in Georgia, filed suit Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, objecting to the Obama Administration’s contraceptive mandate. This action is in response to the Administration’s regulations that require certain religious employers to provide health benefit plans for their employees that include coverage for abortifacients and related education and counseling. GuideStone Financial Resources, Reaching Souls International and Truett-McConnell are challenging this mandate as an assault on biblical convictions and an attack on religious liberty.

No trial date has been set.

While churches and a narrow category of closely-related organizations are exempt from the mandate, many other ministry organizations, including Christian universities, mission organizations, and child and family ministries, must face devastating penalties if they do not provide government mandated, contraceptive coverage through the health plan they make available to their employees or through a third-party that provides services to the health plan. According to the suit, the mandate substantially burdens the plaintiffs’ exercise of religious beliefs because it forces them to be involved in a program to provide employees with access to drugs and devices that risk human life.

“GuideStone plans do not cover drugs or devices that can or do cause abortions,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said. “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. 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.

“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. This mandate runs rough-shod over these foundational principles.”

Truett-McConnell College of Cleveland, Ga., is a 66-year-old institution of higher learning controlled by the Baptist Convention of the State of Georgia. Like other Christian colleges, it would be required to follow the contraceptive mandate.

“Our mission at Truett-McConnell College is to equip our students to fulfill the Great Commission by fostering a Christian worldview through a biblically centered education,” said Emir Caner, president of the Georgia college. “Part of that Christian worldview is the understanding that human life — from conception to death — is valuable because all human life is created in the image of God. It is an unconscionable violation of the Christian worldview we were founded upon to be required to participate in the government’s scheme to provide objectionable coverages in our employer health plan.”

Reaching Souls International is a mission organization with the goal of training Africans to reach the world’s largest continent for Christ. As a mission organization with employees based in Oklahoma City, Reaching Souls International is also subject to the mandate to provide access to objectionable contraceptives.

“Our purpose is to equip African ministers to do the ministries to which they have been called,” said Dustin Manis, chief executive officer of Reaching Souls International. “We see this encroachment of our religious liberty by the Obama Administration as a gross violation of our rights as we carry out the ministry to which we’ve been called. We’re thankful that we’re joining with Truett-McConnell and GuideStone to stand up for hundreds of other organizations that are fighting this mandate.”

GuideStone has launched this litigation in an effort to protect the ministry organizations it serves from this objectionable mandate. By being part of this action, Reaching Souls and Truett-McConnell represent a number of ministry organizations that deserve, but do not have, relief from this mandate.

This legal action seeks to obtain relief from the court not only for the named parties, but for the many ministry-related employers that share core convictions regarding sanctity of life and provide health coverage to their employees through the program made available by GuideStone. Assisting in this effort are legal experts in the areas of religious liberty and church benefits programs.