An Oklahoma federal court issued a permanent injunction Thursday (March 15), prohibiting the federal government from enforcing the contraceptive mandate issued by the Obama Administration in 2013. The mandate, issued under the Affordable Care Act, would have forced certain ministries to provide abortion-causing drugs or devices or face potentially crippling fines. The permanent injunction protects the plaintiffs in the case — Reaching Souls International, an Oklahoma mission-sending entity, and Truett McConnell University, a Georgia Baptist institution — along with GuideStone®. The permanent injunction also protects “all current and future participating employers in the GuideStone Plan, and any third-party administrators acting on behalf of these entities with respect to the GuideStone Plan.”
Churches and closely held ministries were exempt from the mandate already.
“The permanent injunction ensures that no ministry GuideStone serves is forced to choose between following its conscience or facing fines that may put its very existence at risk,” said Harold R. Loftin Jr., chief legal officer for GuideStone. “This is the very heart of why we have the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), to insist that the government accomplish its goals without unduly forcing people of faith to violate their deeply held beliefs.”
GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said the decision demonstrates the organization’s commitment to advocating for those it serves.
“For 100 years, we’ve committed to serving those who serve the Lord with the integrity of our hearts and skillfulness of our hands,” Hawkins said. “One way we are able to do that is through working with legislators and regulators on behalf of our participants. This case required a deep, long-term commitment from GuideStone, which took us all the way to the Supreme Court, but it bears much fruit today for those we serve. We are thankful for the work of the Becket Fund and our legal team for their work to bring this day to fruition.”
An Oklahoma federal court issued a temporary injunction against the contraceptive mandate in December 2013. The injunction was struck down by a panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals located in Denver, Colorado, in July 2015, though in a highly unusual move, several judges of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals requested that the case be heard by the full court. Their motion was one vote shy of being granted. The Denver appellate court stayed enforcement of its motion until the U.S. Supreme Court rendered a decision. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of GuideStone and its co-plaintiffs in May 2016, vacating the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision and ordering the Obama Administration to develop a solution that protected the religious beliefs of objecting religious organizations. The Obama Administration did not issue revised rules in accordance with the order of the Supreme Court.
Under the Trump Administration, the government issued new proposed rules that attempted to reverse the Obama Administration’s disregard for religious liberty and freedom. These new rules are now the subject of pending lawsuits to enjoin their effectiveness. As a result, GuideStone and the other plaintiffs in the case moved the trial court to enter a permanent injunction to protect ministry organizations from the ongoing effect of the contraceptive mandate, which the court granted.
“This permanent injunction provides clarity and certainty in the health care regulation arena for the ministries we serve, which have had little of both over the last decade,” Hawkins said.
Roy Hayhurst is director of denominational and public relations services for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention®.
Director of Denominational and Public Relations Services
GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention
Roy.Hayhurst@GuideStone.org | (214) 720-2141