WASHINGTON — Foes of federal rules requiring free insurance coverage of abortion-causing drugs and devices have filed legal briefs in support of a lawsuit representing dozens of Southern Baptist and other Christian organizations.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. and other Southern Baptist leaders said in an amicus brief that the HHS mandate "imposes a substantial burden" on the free exercise of religion.
It forces Southern Baptist individuals or ministries into "an impossible choice" requiring them "to either violate conscience or the law," the brief states.
Their amicus brief explained that Southern Baptists and other Christians "cannot distribute abortion-inducing drugs and devices either directly or indirectly" without violating their faith.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate requires most U.S. employers to provide insurance coverage for some abortion drugs, sterilization and contraception. Many Christian organizations do not qualify for the narrow exemption from the mandate, despite their religious and moral objections to providing the coverage.
Other briefs were filed or supported by the National Association of Evangelicals, Prison Fellowship, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Christian Medical Association, the Christian Legal Society, the American Center for Law and Justice, Concerned Women for America, Americans United for Life and Women Speak for Themselves.
They are backing a religious-freedom class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of GuideStone Financial Services, the benefits arm of the Southern Baptist Convention; the Georgia-based Truett-McConnell College; and Reaching Souls International, an Oklahoma-based Christian ministry that cares for orphans in Africa and trains pastors in Africa, India and Cuba.
The lawsuit challenges the HHS mandate requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for drugs that can cause abortions; the suit represents more than 180 ministries.
"The government wants to force small nonprofit ministries like Reaching Souls and Truett-McConnell to change their health plans in a way that violates their consciences — or pay crushing penalties," Adèle Keim, legal counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said May 28.
"These ministries — and hundreds others like them — have chosen GuideStone because they want health benefits that reflect their deeply held Christian beliefs," said Keim, who is also counsel for GuideStone.
The lawsuit won a preliminary injunction against the mandate in December 2013. The federal government has appealed the case to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
While some houses of worship and religious nonprofits have gained an exemption or accommodation from the mandate, for-profit businesses are still required to pay for all objectionable products and procedures.
The Supreme Court is expected to issue an important religious-freedom ruling in late June involving Hobby Lobby, a craft-store company owned by a Christian family with objections to providing abortion-causing drugs.
Many Catholic organizations, including dioceses, religious orders and colleges, have filed suits against the mandate. They additionally object to mandatory coverage of contraception and sterilization. In total, more than 90 suits have been filed over the mandate, representing more than 300 plaintiffs.