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Religious Organizations Pursue Class-Action Suit Over Contraceptive Coverage Rules

Religious Organizations Pursue Class-Action Suit Over Contraceptive Coverage Rules

October 15, 2013 — The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has filed a class-action lawsuit against the federal contraceptive coverage rules on behalf of an organization that provides health benefits for employees of Southern Baptist churches and ministries, the Associated Baptist Press reports.

According to the ABP, the organization, GuideStone Financial Services, is an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention. ABP reports that Reaching Souls International in Oklahoma and Truett-McConnell College in Georgia -- two of about 100 organizations that rely on GuideStone for health benefits -- also are plaintiffs in the suit (Allen, Associated Baptist Press, 10/14).

The contraceptive coverage rules, which are being implemented under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), require most employers to offer the coverage to their workers. Houses of worship are exempt from the requirement, and religiously affiliated not-for-profits are eligible for an accommodation that ensures they do not have to pay for or directly provide the coverage to their employees. Private companies are not eligible for an exemption or accommodation (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/9).

GuideStone contends that the accommodation would still require it to facilitate and possibly pay for forms of contraception that go against Southern Baptist religious beliefs. The suit seeks an injunction blocking the government from enforcing the rules against the plaintiffs (Associated Baptist Press, 10/14).

GuideStone attorney Rod Miller said Reaching Souls and Truett-McConnell joined the suit to represent the types of ministries expected to participate in the class action (Gonzalez, The Tennessean, 10/14).

Cases Focus on Employers' Role in Providing Coverage

In related news, the Washington Times profiled issues involved in the case of a Michigan-based company that is also challenging the contraceptive coverage rules because they go against the owner's Catholic beliefs.

The company, Autocam, covers 100% of preventive care for its employees and gives them $1,500 annually for a health savings account.

Although employees currently can spend the HSA money on any health services they want, including birth control, Autocam owner John Kennedy argued that the mandate "changes that situation" by requiring the company to play a direct role in providing contraceptives. "This is a line our faith requires us to respect, and that is what we're trying to do here," he said, adding, "It's a terrible predicament to be forced into by your country."

However, Brigitte Amiri -- a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union -- said that "[p]roviding a comprehensive health plan to [Kennedy's] employees doesn't burden his religio[us] beliefs any more than paying salaries, which employees may use to obtain care or services that may be contrary to the owner's religious beliefs." Amiri added that ACLU intends to weigh in on the Autocam case "as we have done in over 30 of these cases."

According to the Times, the rules are "ripe for review" by the Supreme Court, given a divide among federal appellate courts on the issue (Howell, Washington Times, 10/14).