GuideStone Financial Resources, which provides health insurance coverage and other services to more than 200,000 people, expressed strong opposition Monday (Feb. 6) to the new federal rule, especially its failure to provide adequate conscience protections.
"This encroachment of religious freedom is blatant and outrageous and should be taken seriously by those of us who are part of the body of believers, as well as by others who respect and regard this nation's history and constitutional foundation," GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said in a written statement.
Under final guidelines announced Jan. 20, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said the controversial 2010 health care reform law would require health plans and insurers to provide no-cost coverage of contraceptives and sterilizations as preventive services. The "contraceptive mandate," as it has become known, requires all methods approved as birth control by the Food and Drug Administration to be included in a range of services offered to patients free of charge. Those FDA-endorsed contraceptives include ones that have abortion-causing properties -- emergency contraception, such as Plan B; the intrauterine device (IUD); and "ella."
The HHS rule includes an exemption for employers who oppose paying for such coverage on religious grounds, but critics say the religious exemption is too narrow. While it will protect many churches and other houses of worship, it does not appear it will cover all. The exemption also will not extend to such faith-based organizations as schools, hospitals and social service programs.
Richard Land, president of Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, have been among Southern Baptist and evangelical leaders who have decried the rule and its insufficient religious exemption. Land has described the combination as "bad news for freedom of conscience and for respect for the freedom of religion protections" in the Constitution, while Mohler said Obama "has trampled religious liberty underfoot." (See Mohler's first-person commentary in Baptist Press today, Feb. 6.)
While many evangelicals have publicly opposed the HHS rule, the Roman Catholic Church has led the resistance to the new regulation, which will affect its many hospitals, colleges and social service programs. Catholic bishops have said they cannot comply. Many American Catholics recently heard letters from their bishops decrying the rule read in masses.
In its Feb. 6 statement, GuideStone said it "strongly opposes any governmental intrusion on the ability of church health plans to reflect fundamental and long held religious convictions."
GuideStone described the 2010 health care law -- labeled by critics as "Obamacare" -- as "the greatest challenge ever confronted" by denominational church plans and said it is actively involved in seeking its total repeal. GuideStone also is part of a coalition of other church plans seeking "legislative and regulatory relief" -- including an adequate conscience clause -- from some of the law's effects, according to its statement.
GuideStone has not addressed the question of whether it will comply with the contraceptive regulation if an adequate religious exemption is not provided, said Timothy Head, the board's executive officer for denominational and public relations. GuideStone would prefer to address that question if and when it arises, he told BP.
Hawkins said in the Feb. 6 statement that GuideStone "is honored to join with our friends at and all of our other Southern Baptist Convention entities to advocate on behalf of those organizations and individuals we are so privileged to serve. We will remain vigilant and diligent in these efforts with our long held biblical convictions and our participants' needs uppermost in our mind."
GuideStone, which is based in Dallas, serves worldwide more than 200,000 participants who serve in about 36,000 churches, missions organizations, schools, hospitals and other ministries. In addition to health and other insurance coverage, GuideStone also offers retirement, investment management, property and casualty coverage and other services.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R.-Fla., introduced legislation Jan. 30 to protect religious liberty in the new HHS rule. His measure would amend federal law to prevent any guidelines based on the 2010 health care reform law from requiring any person or organization to provide coverage of contraception or sterilization in violation of religious belief.
The ERLC endorsed Rubio's bill, which is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, S. 2043.
The HHS rule goes into effect for most health plans beginning Aug. 1, but the administration granted an extra year for compliance to nonprofit employers who currently refuse to cover contraceptives in their insurance plans because of their religious beliefs.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.
The full statement by GuideStone Financial Resources, titled "GuideStone Comments on Forced Abortion Drug Coverage and Religious Freedom Encroachment in Obamacare," follows. The author is Timothy Head, GuideStone's executive officer for denominational and public relations.
DALLAS - GuideStone Financial Resources, as the benefits board of the Southern Baptist Convention, strongly opposes any governmental intrusion on the ability of church health plans to reflect fundamental and long held religious convictions. As noted by Dr. Richard Land and Dr. Albert Mohler and others within Southern Baptist life, the Obama Administration's recent action requiring coverage of contraceptives goes beyond the issue at hand. O.S. Hawkins, President of GuideStone Financial Resources, added, "This encroachment on religious freedom is blatant and outrageous and should be taken seriously by those of us who are part of the body of believers, as well as by others who respect and regard this nation's history and constitutional foundation."
For many decades, GuideStone has been privileged to provide health care coverage to ministers and others serving churches and church-related organizations. GuideStone's plans are specifically designed to reflect Southern Baptist polity and to provide benefits in a manner consistent with Southern Baptist convictions especially related to the sanctity of life and marriage as well as the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit. GuideStone's plans take into account the unique needs of pastors and others involved in ministry and Christian service.
The health care reform law (often referred to as Obamacare) presents the greatest challenge ever confronted by denominational church health plans throughout the nation. GuideStone was active in its advocacy for church health plans and their participants prior to the enactment of Obamacare. However, since that time, GuideStone has devoted significant additional efforts seeking to prevent church health plans and their participants from being adversely affected. GuideStone is in the forefront of those calling for a full repeal of Obamacare specifically due to its adverse effect on church plans. In the event it is not repealed, GuideStone has presently joined with a coalition of other church plans to seek legislative and regulatory relief from various aspects of Obamacare that could threaten the ability of church health plans to serve their participants.
One area of focus for many months has been the need for a conscience clause so that the convictions so important to us as believers are not disregarded or overrun in the name of healthcare reform. GuideStone continues to be active in addressing issues involving sanctity of life, and also is adamant about other issues of vital interest to the evangelical community that could conceivably impact health plans in future years. For example, GuideStone could never concede to extend coverage to same sex spouses or cover questionable stem cell treatments. GuideStone continues to seek avenues of obtaining a conscience clause to protect and preserve these foundational convictions.
"There are many challenges to be confronted as a result of the enactment of health care reform. GuideStone is honored to join with our friends at The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and all of our other Southern Baptist Convention entities to advocate on behalf of those organizations and individuals we are so privileged to serve. We will remain vigilant and diligent in these efforts with our long held Biblical convictions and our participants' needs uppermost in our mind," Hawkins concluded.
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