Reaching Souls International, Inc. v. Azar

Becket Role:
Counsel

Scoreboard

Decision:
Won
Decision Date:
March 16, 2018
Deciding Court:
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Case Snapshot

A Southern Baptist health benefits provider filed a class-action suit on behalf of over 100 ministries against the HHS Mandate.

Status

On November 7, 2018, the federal government issued a final rule protecting religious ministries like Reaching Souls while offering alternative means for women to obtain free contraception

Case Summary

To defend their faith, an orphan care ministry, a Christian college, and a 100-year-old Baptist ministry are standing up to the government’s HHS mandate, which is forcing them to violate their beliefs or pay crippling IRS fines.

Reaching Souls International is a nonprofit evangelistic ministry that has preached the Gospel to over 20 million people and rescued hundreds of orphans in Africa, India, and Cuba by placing them into loving homes. If Reaching Souls does not comply with the government’s mandate, it will face each year in IRS fines.

Truett-McConnell College is a Georgia Baptist college committed to training students to share the Gospel by providing a biblically-centered education. If Truett-McConnell does not comply with the mandate, it will face millions of dollars each year in IRS fines.

GuideStone Financial Resources has been the benefits arm of the Southern Baptist Convention for over 100 years and provides retirement and health benefits to thousands of Southern Baptist churches and evangelical ministries like Reaching Souls and Truett-McConnell College.

GuideStone, Reaching Souls, and Truett-McConnell have joined together to represent over 187 ministries that rely on GuideStone for health benefits and face massive IRS fines for refusing to violate their beliefs.

These evangelical ministries simply cannot comply with the mandate to provide free access to abortion-inducing drugs and devices through the GuideStone health plan because doing so would violate their Christian beliefs about the sanctity of human life. While the government has exempted churches and church-controlled ministries from the mandate, it refuses to exempt religious ministries like Reaching Souls and Truett-McConnell College.

Faced with no choice but to defend their beliefs, the ministries filed suit in October 2013. In December 2013, their case became the first class-action suit to win relief from the government’s HHS mandate. But on July 14, 2015, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court decision and ruled against the evangelical ministries. On July 23, 2015, GuideStone, Reaching Souls, and Truett-McConnell appealed to the Supreme Court.

Becket and Locke Lord LLP represent Reaching Souls, Truett-McConnell, and GuideStone in their fight for religious freedom. This is the second class action filed challenging the administration’s mandate; the first was filed by Becket and Locke Lord LLP on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor and hundreds of Catholic ministries participating in the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, a national plan for Catholic employers. Becket also represents Eternal Word Television Network, Houston Baptist University, and others in similar lawsuits.

Reaching Souls, Truett-McConnell, and GuideStone’s fight has brought them all the way to the Supreme Court, where on November 6, 2015 the Supreme Court agreed to hear their case.

On October 6, 2017, the government issued a new rule with a broader religious exemption. The rule may be changed after the government considers the comments it receives. Becket attorney Mark Rienzi stated, “It should be easy for the courts to finalize this issue now that the government admits it broke the law. For months, we have been waiting for Department of Justice lawyers to honestly admit that fact, like the President did in the Rose Garden five months ago. Now that the agencies admit the mandate was illegal, we expect the leadership of the Department of Justice will cooperate in getting a final court resolution.”

On November 7, 2018, the federal government issued a final rule protecting religious ministries like Reaching Souls while offering alternative means for women to obtain free contraception

Case Information

Becket Role:
Counsel
Case Start Date:
October 11, 2013
Deciding Court:
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
Original Court:
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma
Supreme Court Status:
Decided