The 2011 Obama healthcare abortion/contraception mandate, which resulted in legal challenges from more than 90 religious nonprofit organizations, was struck down in a final judgment on July 17, 2018, by an Oklahoma federal judge. This final judgment was announced on August 8, 2018, by GuideStone, the Southern Baptist Convention’s health and financial benefits entity.
After all legislative and regulatory processes were exhausted, GuideStone along with Truett McConnell University and Reaching Souls International had filed suit on October 14, 2013. They objected to the Obama administration’s Affordable Health Care mandate because it was an assault on biblical convictions and an attack on religious liberty.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty was lead counsel and represented the following clients who were opposed to the mandate: Christian Brothers Services, Christian Brothers Employee Benefits Trust, Houston Baptist and East Texas Baptist Universities, Reaching Souls International, Truett McConnell University, GuideStone Financial Services of the Southern Baptist Convention, Colorado Christian University, Wheaton College, Ave Maria University, Belmont Abby College, and Eternal Word Television Network.
The impact of the final judgment for Truett McConnell University was welcomed. “We teach our students what it means to think biblically about all areas of life,” said Emir Caner, president of Truett McConnell University. “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.”
If the group had failed to win the court battle at the Supreme Court, it could have levied $3 million in fines per year on the University. However, the final judgment removed the mandate to supply abortion-causing drugs on the University. The burden of providing such drugs would have forced the University to be involved in a program that supplied employees access to drugs and devices that risk human life, a program which would have been diametrically opposed to the University’s religious beliefs.
“These ministries are saying this is not about money,” said Mark Rienzi, Becket Fund counsel in the case. “This is about conscience and whether these ministries should be forced to change their health care plan to offer services that they have a moral objection to when those services could be provided more effectively through the government’s health care exchanges.”
Religious liberty appears to be an ongoing struggle throughout the centuries, regardless of the location of the country on this global sphere. While this court battle resulted in the conscience of religious groups prevailing over the intrusion and dictates of the government, perhaps James Madison should be our guide for this and future mandates of the government. He said, “The religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man: and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate” (James Madison, 1785).
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