By Roy Hayhurst
DALLAS — The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled today that GuideStone Financial Resources and the ministries it serves in its health plans must comply with the government’s HHS mandate, which forces religious ministries to violate their faith or pay crippling IRS penalties. Churches and their integrated auxiliaries are exempt from the mandate as religious employers.
GuideStone, its co-plaintiffs Reaching Souls International and Truett-McConnell College, and attorneys from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Locke Lord LLP are studying the opinion to determine next steps, including possible appeals to the full Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals or to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We’re disappointed with today’s decision, which leaves in place the federal government’s aggressive, discriminatory, and unnecessary attack on the core religious beliefs of private religious ministries,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead attorney in the GuideStone litigation. “The government does not need to take over a church benefits plan to provide abortion-inducing drugs — the most powerful government in the world can obviously distribute drugs without co-opting religious institutions and their health plans.”
GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins echoed Rienzi’s comments.
“This is a disappointing decision, for both religious liberty and for the sanctity of life,” Hawkins said. “This is a day for all of us to bombard the Throne of Grace with petitions for a favorable outcome on appeal, for strength of resolve, for the unborn in this country and for all of our leaders, so many of whom have turned their back on the founding principles of this country. We are working already with our legal advisors to determine our next steps.
“Today was a setback. It is not the final outcome.”
Both Reaching Souls and Truett-McConnell provide their health insurance through GuideStone, the benefits arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. GuideStone has been providing retirement and health benefits to Southern Baptist churches and affiliated ministries like Reaching Souls and Truett-McConnell College for nearly 100 years.
Reaching Souls is an Oklahoma-based ministry that works to train, equip and support African, Cuban and Indian pastors and evangelists who preach the Gospel to their fellow countrymen. Truett-McConnell College is a Georgia Baptist Convention college that provides a biblically centered education.
Roy Hayhurst is department head of denominational and public relations at GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.