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180 Evangelical Ministries Win Class-Action Lawsuit over Contraceptives (For Now)

(UPDATED) Major provider of church health benefits takes on government for the first time—and wins the first round.

Update (Dec. 20): One of two class-action lawsuits filed against the HHS contraceptive mandate proved successful today, as the Becket Fund announced that an Oklahoma judge granted GuideStone Financial Resources a temporary injunction against the Affordable Care Act requirement.

GuideStone had sued on behalf of nearly 200 evangelical ministries affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Becket writes:

These evangelical organizations only object to four out of twenty FDA-approved contraceptives—those like the "morning after pill" and the "week after pill" that may cause early abortions. The court's order is an early Christmas gift that came just days before the January 1, 2014 deadline that would have forced the ministries to choose between following their religious beliefs about the sanctity of life and paying thousands of dollars a day in fines.

CT previously noted how the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to assess the constitutionality of the contraceptive mandate, which now faces nearly 90 legal challenges.

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[Originally posted Oct. 16, 2013, at 11:49 a.m. under headline, "100 Christian Ministries Compose Class-Action Lawsuit over Contraceptives"]

The massive retirement and health benefits arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, GuideStone Financial Resources, has made good on its threat to pivot from advocacy to litigation in defending beleaguered church health plans.

In its first-ever federal lawsuit, GuideStone has partnered with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Locke Lord LLP to file a class-action lawsuit against what Becket described as "the federal government's mandate that [GuideStone clients] provide employees with free access to abortion-inducing drugs and devices."

According to Becket's press release:

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 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 lawsuit is the second class-action suit to challenge the contraceptive mandate (the first, on behalf of a Catholic benefits provider, was also filed by Becket), and the 74th overall. CT recently noted the likelihood of this legal fight soon reaching the U.S. Supreme Court.

According to Becket's scorecard, only 1 of the 35 non-profit lawsuits filed against the mandate has been "decided on the merits," with the rest only receiving "rulings on procedural issues such as timing." By contrast, 30 of the 39 for-profit lawsuits filed against the mandate have "secured injunctive relief," while only 5 have not.

The Alliance Defending Freedom offered its own scorecard earlier this month.

CT has regularly reported on the HHS contraceptive mandate.

Posted:October 20, 2013 at 5:24PM
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