DALLAS — Today, five judges on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals sharply criticized the court decision that ruled against GuideStone earlier this summer.
A three judge panel ruled against GuideStone and GuideStone participants Truett-McConnell College and Reaching Souls International in July. In a rare move, the entire Tenth Circuit, on its own initiative, took a vote on whether to reconsider the panel decision. When the vote narrowly fell short, the five judges issued a dissenting opinion. Their opinion explains why the panel decision was "a dangerous approach to religious liberty" that is so "clearly and gravely wrong" that it "will not long survive."
The HHS mandate requires ministries that are not churches or integrated auxiliaries of churches to provide abortion-causing drugs and devices in their health plans or to face crippling fines. The parties in the case have argued that a false "accommodation" offered by the government still forces the ministries to violate their faith.
GuideStone, along with churches and a very narrow class of other ministries, are exempt from the mandate and its penalties. But hundreds of evangelical Christian ministries that rely on GuideStone for their health benefits are not exempt and must comply with the government's system or pay enormous fines.
"This is extraordinary—with the powerful opinion from these five judges, we now have ten appellate judges nationwide who have rejected the government's attack on religious liberty," said Harold R. Loftin Jr., general counsel for GuideStone. "This quickly growing repudiation is very important and provides further proof that the U.S. Supreme Court should hear our appeal."
The three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit Court ruled 2-1 against GuideStone on July 14. An injunction protecting affected ministries from the mandate's penalties remains in effect.
GuideStone and its co-plaintiffs Truett-McConnell College and Reaching Souls International have filed an appeal to the Supreme Court alongside the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic ministry. A decision on whether the Supreme Court will hear the appeal is expected by early October.