GuideStone Financial Resources has secured a conclusive victory in its lengthy, legal battle against the Obama-era abortion/contraception mandate.
A federal judge in Oklahoma issued a final judgment July 17 in favor of the Southern Baptist Convention’s health and financial benefits entity, as well as ministries it serves, GuideStone reported Aug. 8. The ruling brought to an end GuideStone’s challenge of a 2011 rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that helped implement a controversial health-care law enacted the previous year. The regulation required employers to provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives, including those that can potentially induce abortions, or face potentially devastating fines.
GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said the court decision means “we finally have a clear declarative judgment that says the government cannot force a church-controlled organization like GuideStone to violate its faith in the manner the previous administration attempted to do.”
“We are thankful for the prayers and support of our trustees, of the counsel we had from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and from others who spent tireless hours working on behalf of the unborn,” Hawkins said in a written release.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of GuideStone, also praised the final judgment.
“We are glad to see this issue finally come to a conclusion because a true religious and moral exemption to this unconstitutional mandate was long overdue,” said Travis Wussow, the ERLC’s general counsel and vice president for public policy. “Trampling the consciences of people of faith — many of whom serve the most vulnerable with love and compassion — hurts society and violates fundamental American principles.
“We are thankful that our partners at GuideStone can put this litigation behind them as they continue to serve our churches with convictional integrity,” Wussow told Baptist Press in written comments.
Prior to the final judgment, a permanent injunction issued in March had safeguarded GuideStone and its fellow plaintiffs in the case — Truett McConnell University, a Georgia Baptist institution, and Reaching Souls International, an Oklahoma mission-sending entity.
The 2011 abortion/contraception mandate resulted in legal challenges from more than 90 religious nonprofits, including GuideStone, its co-plaintiffs and at least seven Baptist universities. Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic order that serves the poverty-stricken elderly, became the face of the objecting institutions.
Before going to court, GuideStone protested a series of “final” HHS rules on contraceptive coverage issued beginning in 2011. The entity joined the ERLC 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 it failed to achieve satisfactory results through legislative and regulatory processes, GuideStone — plus Truett McConnell and Reaching Souls — filed suit in 2013.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press, Tom Strode and Roy Hayhurst