Hawkins made the comments in light of a Feb. 1 announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services that the federal agency said addressed the concerns of churches and religious organizations. The proposed rule change by HHS, Hawkins said, does ease the concerns of some churches who might not have been exempt from the mandate, but the proposed rule does not go far enough to protect religious organizations.
"We recognize, with regret, that these proposed regulations do not achieve the ultimate goal of removing objectionable forms of contraceptive coverage from the health care arena," Hawkins said. "We join with other believers and persons of conscience to pray and work toward that end.
"At the same time, we continue to press forward on the legislative and regulatory fronts to address this important issue in the context of church health plans. If those legislative and regulatory efforts do not bear timely and meaningful results, we will not hesitate to consider court action. GuideStone fully and fervently supports the actions of other believers who are pursuing actions in the courts, and we share the heart-felt concern of our fellow-believers that these proposed rules do not protect the religious liberty of all employers who seek to uphold and reflect Biblical convictions."
As with other proposed regulations, there is a public comment period during which GuideStone and others may submit formal comments on the proposed rule. GuideStone will take advantage of this process to highlight the special considerations related to church plans, according to a GuideStone release. Since the outset of the health care reform law in 2010, GuideStone, along with other denominational health plans, has formally commented on a number of proposed regulations regarding their impact on churches, ministers and church health plans.
"GuideStone has been pursuing multiple avenues of advocacy on behalf of our participants and the churches we serve, and we remain firmly committed to that advocacy," Hawkins said. "Although it does appear that certain restrictions that could have limited the ability of churches to be exempt from these rules may have been eased, various areas are reserved for future rule-making, so definitive statements at this time regarding whether or how these proposed rules could actually work are premature."
GuideStone is working with a coalition of other church health plans to make known to Congress and regulators the unique needs of church health plans and those ministers and other church employees who rely on them, the GuideStone release said.
"We count it our special privilege and our sacred responsibility to protect and preserve church plans that are uniquely designed for pastors and others so faithfully serving churches and ministry organizations," Hawkins said. "That commitment continues during this time of uncertainty and change within the entire health care sector, and it is our deepest desire to undergird and serve churches and ministry organizations every step of the way."
Compiled by staff of GuideStone Financial Resources and Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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