While the Supreme Court’s June 28 ruling upholding Obamacare doesn’t address religious liberty, it means debate will continue over how the coverage mandate will affect faith-based employers.

By Bob Allen

Critics of the Obama administration’s requirement that faith-based employers include mandatory contraceptive coverage in their health-care plans for women voiced disappointment June 28 when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld key portions of the Affordable Health Care Act known as Obamacare.

Melissa Rogers, director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School and non-resident senior fellow for governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said no church-state issue was brought before the court in its ruling that Congress had the power to impose the health-care mandate because it can be considered a tax. However, the fact that the law was upheld means religious-liberty debates about issues like the contraception mandate will continue, she said.

O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention on the record raising concern about how new Health and Human Services insurance requirements might affect church health plans, said he was disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act.

He said that while the decision has no immediate impact on rates, benefits or eligibility for any of GuideStone’s health plan participants, it remains unclear how church plans will be affected by the coverage mandate.

“As I told messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans last week, we will never allow this administration, or any other, to tell us that we have to provide abortive drugs like morning-after pills or provide for same-sex marriages,” Hawkins said. “We will maintain our advocacy on behalf of the ministers we are privileged to serve.”

The Supreme Court decision comes midway through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops “Fortnight of Freedom,” a 14-day campaign protesting HHS regulations they say would require Catholic and other faith-based organizations to pay for medical services that violate their religious beliefs.

Churches are exempt from the contraceptive mandate, but not faith-based institutions like hospitals and universities that serve larger constituencies than just adherents to the faith. The White House responded to religious-liberty concerns in the new rules by requiring insurance companies to pay for birth-control services for women who work for religious institutions that object to paying for them on moral grounds. Critics of the compromise called it an accounting trick, saying insurance companies will simply pass on their added expenses to employers in the form of higher premiums.

Conservative organizations including the Alliance Defense Fund and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty vowed to continue to challenge the contraceptive mandate on religious-liberty grounds.

Roy Hayhurst at GuideStone Financial Resources contributed to this story.