Church Benefits Provider and Ministries File Class-Action Lawsuit Against Controversial HHS Mandate

Image: Church Benefits Provider and Ministries File Class-Action Lawsuit Against Controversial HHS Mandate

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 11, 2013
Contact: Emily Hardman, ehardman@becketfund.org, (202) 349-7224

Washington, D.C. – Today the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty together with the national law firm Locke Lord LLP filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of three non-profit religious organizations who cannot comply with the federal government’s mandate that they provide employees with free access to abortion-inducing drugs and devices:

  • Reaching Souls International, a nonprofit evangelistic ministry dedicated to preaching the Gospel and caring for orphans in Africa, India, and Cuba;
  • Truett-McConnell College, a Georgia Baptist college dedicated to equipping students to make disciples of Christ among all the nations through a biblically-centered education; and
  • GuideStone Financial Resources, 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.

The class, represented by Reaching Souls International and Truett-McConnell College, includes over 100 ministries that currently receive conscience-compliant health benefits through GuideStone. None of the ministries that comprise the class qualify for HHS’ narrow “religious employer” exemption, and they all face enormous fines if they do not comply with the government’s mandate by January 1, 2014.

“The government’s refusal to treat these ministries as ‘religious employers’ is senseless,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.  “These people spend their lives teaching and preaching their religious faith—if they do not qualify as ‘religious employers,’ the government needs to get a new definition.”

The lawsuit is brought by Reaching Souls, Truett-McConnell, and GuideStone on behalf of all of the religious groups that participate in GuideStone’s health benefits plan and are not exempt from the government mandate to cover emergency contraceptives.

“The very purpose of the GuideStone plan is to provide ministry organizations with employee health benefits according to Biblical principles,” said O.S. Hawkins, GuideStone’s President and Chief Executive Officer.  “The government shouldn’t prohibit us from continuing in that ministry.”

The government allows exemptions from the mandate for churches and certain other religious ministry groups, but Reaching Souls and Truett-McConnell do not qualify because they do not fall within a narrow tax law category of ministries that are “integrated auxiliaries” of a church.

Founded by a Southern Baptist pastor and evangelist in 1986, Reaching Souls’ mission is “to reach Souls for Christ” by training, equipping, and supporting African, Cuban, and Indian pastors and evangelists as they preach the Gospel to their  neighbors and countrymen. Through their dedicated preaching, pastors and evangelists trained and supported by Reaching Souls have reached out to over 20 million people in Africa, Cuba, and India.

In addition to proclaiming the Gospel, Reaching Souls has rescued hundreds of orphans in Africa and India by placing them into loving homes. If Reaching Souls does not comply with the mandate by January 1, 2014, it will face $365,000 per year in IRS fines.

“Because everyone is made in the image of God, even the most vulnerable people in society should be respected, served, and loved. That’s why Reaching Souls is committed to reaching the neediest people with the Gospel and caring for orphaned children, and it’s why we believe that human life should be protected from conception. We want to offer a health plan that reflects those commitments,” said Dustin Manis, Reaching Souls’ CEO.

Located on 200 acres in the mountains of Georgia, Truett-McConnell is a Georgia Baptist liberal arts college whose mission is to “equip students to fulfill the Great Commission by fostering a Christian worldview through a biblically centered education.”  If Truett-McConnell does not comply with the mandate by January 1, it will face nearly $3 million per year in IRS fines.

“We teach our students what it means to think Biblically about all areas of life,” said Dr. Emir Caner, President of Truett-McConnell. “We can’t tell them that human life is sacred from the time of conception and then turn around and offer health benefits that are inextricably linked to providing abortion-causing drugs. Southern Baptists have a long history of standing up to government coercion in matters of conscience—it’s a tradition we’re honored to join.”

The lawsuit was filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Locke Lord LLP in the federal district court in Oklahoma. This is the 74th lawsuit challenging the administration’s mandate. The Becket Fund is also representing the Little Sisters of the Poor, Hobby Lobby, Belmont Abbey College, Colorado Christian University, East Texas Baptist University, Eternal Word Television Network, Houston Baptist University, Ave Maria University, and Wheaton College in similar lawsuits.  This is the second class action file challenging the administration’s mandate.  The other class action was filed in federal District Court in Denver by the Becket Fund and Locke Lord LLP on behalf of various religious organizations participating in the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, a national plan established for Catholic employers.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions—from Anglicans to Zoroastrians. For 18 years its attorneys have been recognized as experts in the field of church-state law.  They recently won a 9-0 Supreme Court victory in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, which The Wall Street Journal called one of “the most important religious liberty cases in a half century.”

For more information, or to arrange an interview with one of the attorneys, please contact Emily Hardman, Communications Director, at ehardman@becketfund.org or call 202.349.7224.

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