Month: July 2015

Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rules against GuideStone in HHS mandate litigation

DALLAS — The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled today that GuideStone Financial Resources and the ministries it serves in its health plans must comply with the government’s HHS mandate, which forces religious ministries to violate their faith or pay crippling IRS penalties. Churches and their integrated auxiliaries are exempt from the mandate as religious employers.

GuideStone, its co-plaintiffs Reaching Souls International and Truett-McConnell College, and attorneys from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Locke Lord LLP are studying the opinion to determine next steps, including possible appeals to the full Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals or to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We’re disappointed with today’s decision, which leaves in place the federal government’s aggressive, discriminatory and unnecessary attack on the core religious beliefs of private religious ministries,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead attorney in the GuideStone litigation. “The government does not need to take over a church benefits plan to provide abortion-inducing drugs—the most powerful government in the world can obviously distribute drugs without co-opting religious institutions and their health plans.”

GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins echoed Rienzi’s comments.

“This is a disappointing decision, for both religious liberty and for the sanctity of life,” Hawkins said. “This is a day for all of us to bombard the Throne of Grace with petitions for a favorable outcome on appeal, for strength of resolve, for the unborn in this country and for all of our leaders, so many of whom have turned their back on the founding principles of this country. We are working already with our legal advisors to determine our next steps.

“Today was a setback. It is not the final outcome.”

Both Reaching Souls and Truett-McConnell provide their health insurance through GuideStone, the benefits arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. GuideStone has been providing retirement and health benefits to Southern Baptist churches and affiliated ministries like Reaching Souls and Truett-McConnell College for nearly 100 years.

Reaching Souls is an Oklahoma-based ministry that works to train, equip and support African, Cuban and Indian pastors and evangelists who preach the gospel to their fellow countrymen. Truett-McConnell College is a Georgia Baptist Convention college that provides a biblically centered education.

Baptist universities appeal to Supreme Court over Obamacare mandate

WASHINGTON (BP)—Houston Baptist University and East Texas Baptist University are appealing to the Supreme Court in challenging the Obamacare mandate to provide insurance coverage encompassing abortion-inducing drugs.

HBU and ETBU in conjunction with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty along with Westminster Theological Seminary filed a petition July 8 with the high court in response to a June 22 ruling by a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that the mandate did not and, likely, would not “substantially burden their religious exercise.”

In all, 56 cases involving 140 nonprofit plaintiffs have been filed against the mandate, according to the Becket Fund. Among various cases in the news is a last-minute temporary injunction granted to Little Sisters of the Poor from facing enforcement of the mandate in January 2014.

Two other Baptist entities—GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and Truett-McConnell College in Georgia—are involved in a separate challenge (GuideStone v. Sebelius), joined by Reaching Souls International, an Oklahoma-based missions organization. A federal district judge’s injunction blocking enforcement of the mandate against the three plaintiffs is in force.

HBU, ETBU, Westminster and four other plaintiffs contended in an October 2012 lawsuit against the mandate (also called the HHS mandate and Affordable Care Act mandate) that they should receive the same consideration as churches under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA).

A federal district judge ruled in the seven plaintiffs’ favor in December 2013. The three-judge appeals panel of the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, however, referenced challenges to the mandate in federal district courts and acknowledged that the lower courts had cited RFRA in ruling against abortifacient coverage mandated for faith-based institutions. But the panel disagreed, writing, “Because the plaintiffs have not shown and are not likely to show that the requirement substantially burdens their religious exercise under established law, we reverse.”

Robert Sloan, HBU president, said in a Becket Fund news release July 8, “We didn’t go looking for this fight. But here we stand and can do no other. We cannot help the government or anyone else provide potentially life-threatening drugs and devices. The government has many other ways to achieve its goals without involving us. It ought to pick one of those and let us go back to educating our students.”

Diana Verm, legal counsel with the Becket Fund, also said July 8, “The Supreme Court should step in and tell the federal government that separation of church and state is a two-way street. The state should not be able to take over parts of the church—including these religious ministries—just so it has an easier way of distributing life-terminating drugs.”

Sloan has noted that faith-based schools and organizations have been recognized by the government historically as parachurch institutions and afforded the same consideration as churches in matters of conscience and law. But only houses of worship can opt out of compliance with the ACA mandate requiring all employer insurance policies provide contraceptive and abortifacient coverage—an untenable proposition, the plaintiffs argued.

The plaintiffs are arguing that though their institutions serve a different purpose than churches, their underlying convictions and subordination to scriptural authority—as is often declared in their governing documents—is no less binding on how they conduct business. Therefore, the government’s distinction between entities, they argued, is arbitrary and an affront to people of conscience.

One hopeful development in the challenges to the mandate, Sloan has said, is the Hobby Lobby case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the family-owned arts and craft retail chain could opt out of the contraceptive mandate because of the owners’ religiously held convictions. At the same time, however, Sloan has acknowledged that precedent is not in favor of the HBU, ETBU, Westminster appeal as the Fifth Circuit decision concurs with rulings in similar cases from appellate courts across the nation.

The Supreme Court is likely to consider all of the petitions in late September or early October, the Becket Fund said in its July 8 release. If any of the petitions are granted, the case would be argued and decided before the end of the court’s term in June 2016. 

For HBU, ETBU and the other religious institutions, failure to win their cases would force them to violate their conscience and provide the offending coverage; defy the mandate and pay “onerous” penalties; or partner with a third party insurance provider to offer the contraceptive coverage.

All three, Sloan has said, are unacceptable. Disregarding their Christian convictions is not an option.

Paying the fine also is out of the question as the non-compliance penalty of $100 per employee per day would total $12 million and $8 million a year, respectively, for HBU and ETBU.

“If we exercise our religious freedom, the penalties could put us out of business,” Sloan said.

And asking a third party to provide the coverage still makes the school culpable for the objectionable coverage, Sloan said, noting that the university’s insurance provider is Guidestone Financial Resources, the Southern Baptist insurance provider also fighting the legal battle with the Obama administration over the mandate.

Currently, as in other cases, a temporary injunction is shielding HBU, EBTU and the other five plaintiffs from enforcement of the mandate.


Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press; Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN.

Why I’m Glad My Parents Didn’t Let Me Choose My Gender

There is a growing trend in the world today that we see repeated in news headlines: Parents choosing to raise their child genderless or as the opposite gender, due to the child’s preference. Simply put, if a little girl says she wishes she were a boy or a little boy prefers to play with dolls, the parents seek to grant their wish.

I find this especially troubling because honestly, if raised in a different time, by different parents, I fear I could have been one of them. You see, I had two older brothers who, from my 4-10 year-old tomboy perspective, got to do a lot of pretty great things that I didn’t. They didn’t have to wear a shirt when they were hot  (a great injustice in my mind), they didn’t have to wear complicated dress clothes and they were in Boy Scouts. Everything about Boy Scouts seemed awesome to me – camping, learning about animals, racing little wooden cars – it looked like a dream. I had no desire to be a Girl Scout as large groups of girls intimidated me and all they seemed to do was sell cookies, have sleepovers, and wear mud brown. I liked to run with the boys. I remember on multiple occasions as a little girl questioning why God had to make me a girl!

The logical conclusion to my dilemma in our culture would have been for my parents to grant me my desire and either raise me as a boy or genderless so I would have time to figure out “who I am” without the pressure of nurturing. As this is a growing trend, we need to first and foremost look to Scripture when engaging culture, advising friends how to handle this or dealing with our own children’s views about their gender.

First, we must remember that God created gender (Gen 1:27) and He created our gender to be a blessing (1 Cor. 1:11-12). Ephesians 5:22-33 shows how God uses them to teach us about Himself and to paint a picture of His love for the world. While there may be some aspects of being a woman that our flesh isn’t thrilled about, such as submission, we should also acknowledge that manhood brings its own set of challenges (Eph 5:25, 1 Pet 3:7). The grass isn’t greener on either side.

Second, we should understand that children need nurturing to understand their world and grow up to honor God (Prov 22:6). Any parent can think of examples of irrational requests or desires their child has expressed. When my husband was little he would tell people he wanted to be a fire truck when he grew up. As silly as it seems, it is about as reasonable for his parents to start keeping him in the garage and paint him red as it would have been for my parents to raise me as a boy. Mothers and women in the church should help girls learn to be women of God. Men in the church and fathers, likewise, need to model and teach manhood to boys (Titus 2).

Third, we should acknowledge the wide spectrum of femininity and masculinity and not seek to force stereotypical preferences on our children. Dorcus was crafty (Acts 9:39) while Rachel was a shepherdess. David was a fierce warrior (1 Sam 18:7) but he also liked poetry (Ps 23). Ultimately, I’m glad my mom made me wear a shirt, taught me to dress like a lady, and didn’t fight to let me be a Boy Scout. I’m also glad my dad took time to show me outdoor skills and that my mom gave in to my begging to join the pole-vault team, though she was sure I’d break my neck. My parents nurtured my femininity without forcing me into stereotypes.

I fear that many children raised counter to their God-given gender will, with age, question what their parents were thinking. Just like a parent who allows their child to play with matches, the excuse that it is what they wanted or it wasn’t culturally acceptable to tell them “no” won’t cut it. As believers, we need to be loving enough to tell our children and our culture “no” when we see them destroying themselves.

Ultimately, a few years of perceived injustice in my life gave way to being very glad that I am not a boy and enjoying my God given gender. I love Pinterest and I’m always up for a pedicure, but I still love being outdoors and doing physically challenging activities. I couldn’t claim to be a girly-girl, but I’ve come to realize and to love that that is simply not the kind of girl that God made me.

–This article first appeared on Maggie is pursuing her Master of Divinity with a concentration in women’s studies at Southwestern Seminary.

First Amendment not overruled by Supreme Court decision, attorney says

The June 26 U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring same-sex marriage a Constitutional right has left many pastors and church members wondering if their opposition now puts them on shaky legal ground. Attempts by Texas state officials to contextualize the ruling in light of the state’s own ban on same-sex marriage and LGBT activists’ response only confused the issue for people who want to know where they stand in the eyes of the new law.

Confusion and concern regarding the legal implications of the Supreme Court ruling has kept Liberty Institute attorney Jeff Mateer busy fielding calls from Texas pastors. He held at least four conference calls within 96 hours of the decision being handed down and talked with the TEXAN on June 30.

“The First Amendment was not overruled last Friday,” Mateer assures concerned pastors.

While churches, faith-based institutions and ministries, and individual Christians need to be on guard for inevitable legal action, the church should not retreat, he says. Recent legal precedent gives him hope that those with deeply held religious convictions will find relief in court from lawsuits that are bound to come “sooner rather than later.”

In his majority opinion, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “Finally, the First Amendment ensures that religions, those who adhere to religious doctrines, and others have protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.”

The fact that Kennedy gave at least a nod to the First Amendment implied to Mateer that all was not lost in the struggle to maintain religious liberties.

As of Friday, the Texas’ same-sex marriage ban was still in force, pending a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit. County clerks lacked the proper documents to issue same-sex marriage licenses. And quick responses to the ruling by Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton, and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and then counter responses by LGBT advocates left many confused.

Mateer said the situation in Texas was complicated by the media and LGBT activists who misconstrued information in the frenzied hours following the ruling.

Because of the First Amendment and the federal and Texas Religious Freedom and Restoration Acts (RFRA), those opposed to same-sex marriage have legal standing. Within hours of the ruling, Paxton, in response to a question posed by Patrick about religious accommodations for county clerks, said government officials could refuse to issue marriage licenses or to perform weddings. But the AG could not guarantee that doing so could leave county clerks and judges open to lawsuits for refusing those services.

Activists decried Paxton’s statement, demanding all Texas county clerks begin issuing marriage licenses on demand.

But Mateer said religious accommodation laws protect most state and county employees from having to perform job duties that violate their deeply held religious convictions. But, he added, “Religious liberty is a balancing act.”

An employee, such as a county clerk, must demonstrate the sincerity of the religious conviction just as the employer must prove there is no other means of accomplishing a task without the employee. In a large county office with several clerks, the refusal of one clerk to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple could easily be remedied by the work of another clerk. But small county offices with few staff could test the religious accommodation rules.

In the end, Mateer said, no one should be punished for abiding by their religious beliefs.

Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, is concerned the Texas RFRA statute is not strong enough to withstand lawsuits filed against churches, business owners and individuals who maintain the biblical and historical definition of marriage. Sanford, executive pastor at Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church in Allen, supported legislation during the 84th Texas legislative session that would have shored up the Texas RFRA and the First Amendment against very specific legal attacks against, however all but one such bill failed.

The Pastor Protection Bill, passed unanimously, ensures pastors and their churches cannot be forced to accommodate an event that violates their religious convictions. But Sanford is among a host of pastors, lawmakers and citizens concerned that the legal battles will come not only to churches but also to faith-based ministries and schools. Sanford was frustrated the legislature refused to acknowledge the potential legal battles to come between people of faith and those who demand affirmation of their sexual orientation.

“I believe that they’re at risk and they are in eminent danger of being forced to violate their faith,” he said.

In a June 26 letter to all state agency heads, Abbott wrote, “The government must never pressure a person to abandon or violate his or her sincerely held religious beliefs regarding a topic such as marriage. That sort of religious coercion will never be a ‘compelling governmental interest,’ and it will never be ‘the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.’”

Although he appreciates the governor’s statement, Sanford believes legislation is needed to directly address the religious liberty challenges Texans will face in the coming months. Sanford will ask the governor to call a special session to address the legal ramifications of the Supreme Court ruling.

Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, has already made that request, and more will be adding their name to the list, Sanford said.

The state and federal RFRA laws are coming under increased scrutiny, with some claiming the laws give religious people “special rights.” On the same day the Supreme Court handed down their ruling on same-sex marriage, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced it would no longer support RFRA laws, claiming they have been used to discriminate against people based on their gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Even the dissenting Supreme Court justices warned of impending religious liberty encroachments. In his dissent, Justice John Roberts wrote, “The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to ‘advocate’ and ‘teach’ their views of marriage. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to ‘exercise’ religion.  Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.”

Certain lawsuits over religious accommodations would reach the Supreme Court, Roberts concluded, “Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.”

But, Sanford and Mateer said, the mission of the church has not changed although the culture has. Mateer gives the same message to every pastor who has called him since June 26: “The First Amendment was not overruled last week. You, as a pastor, need not retreat.

Closure of Texas abortion clinics halted by Supreme Court

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Texas abortion clinics due to close July 1 for failing to comply with regulations established in 2013 received a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court, which voted 5-4 June 29 to halt full implementation of the twice-contested House Bill 2 (HB 2) that established a sweeping overhaul of the abortion industry in the state.

Though disappointed, Texans for Life President Kyleen Wright said the ruling is an indication the high court will take up the case in the fall when it begins a new session.

Implementation of the measures requiring abortion clinics to meet ambulatory surgical center standards and their doctors to receive admitting privileges at a nearby hospital were stayed pending an appeal before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. An application to the Supreme Court for a continued stay was granted and will remain in force until the high court decides to take up the case of Whole Women’s Health v. Lakey. If the court hears the case, the stay will stay in effect until a decision is rendered.

Pro-choice advocates cheered the order. Since the enactment of HB 2 during the 2013 legislative session, the number of abortion clinics has dwindled from about 41 to 16. A fully implemented law would have dropped the number to eight or nine.

On June 9, the Fifth Circuit Court overturned a lower court’s ruling that declared the provisions pose an “undue burden” for Texas women seeking an abortion. The appellate court ruled the law could be fully implemented beginning July 1.

Laws similar to the provisions of HB 2 have been passed and challenged in other states, but pro-life advocates believe it will be HB 2 that will be presented to the Supreme Court. And although some pro-life advocates believe Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has “grown more pro-life” during his tenure on the bench, Wright is not confident in the court’s ability to judge the case on the merits of the law instead of emotion and public opinion.

Media reports and publicity from pro-choice activists misrepresented the June 9 ruling. And despite evidence to the contrary, Wright said, “There has been a large and loud campaign that all clinics will be closed.”

If the Supreme Court takes up HB 2, it will have to define a term it created yet left up to interpretation by lower courts—“undue burden.” The subjective term has been the critical point upon which other abortion regulating laws have been challenged.

Voting for the stay were Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Stephen G. Breyer, and Justice Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Clarence Thomas, and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. would deny the application.

Not Victims At All

Across town, the annual Gay Pride parade was setting attendance records. The usual assortment of flamboyant costumes swirled around revelers celebrating the previous day’s victory over an ancient institution they’d found confining. One straight couple said they brought their toddlers, Fox and Bear (no kidding), so they could understand both freedom and homosexuality. It occurred to me that this family may have not been to town since the Occupy protests a couple of years back. 

About five miles down the road, in the little church my mother attends, Clan Ledbetter was gathered with other great houses to wed two of our children—a man and a woman. The preacher was a family friend, and he reminded us all of God’s first institution, the temporal picture of the timeless relationship between Christ and his church. He preached the gospel to the marrying couple and to the witnesses. “God hears our commitments,” he told us, and he takes them seriously. We nodded in solemn joy at the occasion and the familiar words. The short ceremony proceeded in the pattern familiar to us all, and we smiled as the exuberant newlyweds promenaded down the church aisle.

After greeting them in the foyer, we walked into a small fellowship hall for cake, mixed nuts, chalky white wedding mints and punch made from ginger ale and lime sherbet—staples of Baptist weddings for a generation. But the food wasn’t the point as we gathered in rounds of 10 by family groups to catch up and tease and grin indulgently as a new generation strutted and crowed. We saw the newlyweds off with a barrage of bubbles and spent a half hour preparing the fellowship hall for the next day’s church activities.

Later that day, my side of the family convened at Mom and Dad’s for an annual cookout. The cool evening and blessed lack of mosquitos led us to linger until dark as we talked about our own marriages, 61 years old, 39 years old, 30 years old, two years old and 10 months old. The youngsters can’t imagine my parents’ marriage of over six decades or even mine of nearly four. But they also can’t imagine Dad without Mom or Pop without Granny. Our laughter and wild exaggerated stories taught the newer couples, and the single kids, something as timeless as the lessons Ledbetters and Shults and Reeds and Tunes taught their kids a century back—one man, one woman for life; same as it ever was.

No one mentioned that day the ruling by Justice Kennedy’s court the day before. Maybe I was the only one thinking of it in the background of more important things we said and heard and did that day. But my heart was full for those hours of comfort and peace; in stark contrast of the previous day’s flurry of reading legal opinions; poring over Twitter for comments, bluster and trash talk; and strategery. I was stirred up Friday, as were many of you, and my mind seethed with strong emotions in response to cultural madness, a lot of questions not answerable by the wisdom of this age. But I spent the next morning fishing, that afternoon with family in the broadest sense and that evening with those I’ve known since birth, theirs or mine.

I got my answer. There is no ultimate joy or satisfaction in man’s rebellion against God or his institutions—my rebellion or others’. But there is power in young people hearing the counsel and the testimonies of those who’ve gone before. There is significance in wrinkled and scarred relationships that say convincingly that love and commitment outlast the new-car smell of honeymoons and shower gifts. They may not believe that it “gets better,” to borrow a phrase from the other team, but they have seen that doing the right things, generally, produces something worth passing along to kids they will add to the circle a July or two down the road.

As citizens we will stay engaged as long as we have rights to do so. As citizens we can facilitate the rescue of some victims of our libertine society. As churches, we boldly teach the whole counsel of God to our neighbors, who will often hate to hear it. As children of God—fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters—we will teach our kin what’s right and what is worthy. There are things to mourn in the rebellion of nations against God’s clear revelation of himself. But we mourn for the lost and confused—the worshippers of creation rather than the Creator. We are not victims of wayward American law. The serenity of that Christian wedding service, and of that summer family gathering, is an answer from the unchanging and unshakable God. His children are not victims at all.