JEFFERSON CITY — GuideStone in a Feb. 4 news release indicated that it is still reviewing the details of the Feb. 1 government-released proposed rules regarding religious objections to some or all contraceptives.
GuideStone and the three Missouri Baptist agencies impacted by the rules—Southwest Baptist University (SBU), Hannibal-LaGrange University (HLGU), and the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home (MBCH)—have been adamant that requirements under the new healthcare reform regimen pose serious religious liberty concerns for organizations and individuals who share biblical convictions regarding sanctity of life. The proposed rules just issued by the government appear to provide more, but limited, guidance for churches and ministry organizations.
As with other proposed regulations, there is a public comment period during which time GuideStone and others may submit formal comments on these rules. GuideStone plans on highlighting the special considerations related to church plans. Since the outset of the healthcare reform law in 2010, GuideStone has been active in shaping the process.
“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,” GuideStone President O.S. 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 striving to ensure that health plans offered for 2014 are competitively priced and appropriately structured. GuideStone is also 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.
“We recognize, with regret, that these proposed regulations do not achieve the ultimate goal of removing objectionable forms of contraceptive coverage from the healthcare arena. 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.”
Here are statements from the three Missouri Baptist entities:
Southwest Baptist University: “We have been under a ‘safe harbor’ arrangement effective until Aug. 1, 2013, to give the government time to make a ruling that would be acceptable to religious institutions such as ours,” said SBU President C. Pat Taylor. “While we are pleased with the ruling that appears will exempt our university from this mandate that infringes on religious freedoms, we need to see how it actually plays out before we declare it a victory.”
Hannibal-LaGrange University: “What is at stake is the preservation of religious liberties and those who value the sanctity of life from the moment of conception,” said HLGU President Anthony W. Allen. “For decades we have found ourselves being constantly challenged by society to accept a culture of death. Contraceptives such as Plan B and Ella can kill the embryo after fertilization. The government’s Feb. 1, 2013, release of proposed rules may signal a compromise. However, the freedom to exempt oneself from the imposition of the federal government cannot be limited to just religious organizations; it impacts every Christian (and pro-life advocates) in the workplace. Though an act may be legally permissible, it does not make it morally permissible. One should not violate conscience or the teachings of the Bible. I applaud the efforts of many to challenge the HHS mandates and pray that God would help us have courage to stand up for the truth. Freedom of conscience must always be safeguarded.”
Missouri Baptist Children’s Home: “We continue to have several concerns about the new proposed rules,” said Russell Martin, president, MBCH Children and Family Ministries. “First, these rules do not really address the issues raised by the faith-based community. Even if a religious employer may not have to pay the premiums for coverage it finds objectionable and in violation of its faith tenets, its employees would still receive this coverage.
“Second, while the religious employer would not be required to directly pay the cost of the objectionable coverage, we would still be paying indirectly. Economics 101 tells us there is no such thing as a free lunch – somebody pays for it. Insurance companies get their money from premiums or earnings off the premiums they receive. In order to fund the ‘free’ coverage, premiums for everyone (including the religious employers) would have to increase. Therefore, it seems only logical that premium dollars paid by the religious employer would still help provide the ‘free’ coverage. So religious employers are still being asked to pay for coverage they find in opposition to their values.
“Missouri Baptist Children’s Home will continue to monitor how the Affordable Care Act will be implemented and how it will impact the religious community.”