Marriage ruling, healthcare mandate raise religious liberty questions

Meredith Flynn —  August 10, 2015

NEWS | As the country marked the one-month anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, religious institutions continued to wrestle with the possible implications.

“The Supreme Court left unresolved what rights faith-based universities will have in regard to their religious liberty,” Gene Crume, president of Judson University in Elgin, Ill., told the Illinois Baptist. “The federal government controls financial aid for students, so there is a very real possibility that there could be restrictions to federal financial aid for faith-based institutions if they do not recognize same-sex relationships.”

Crume also noted that since the Court’s ruling, some leaders have favored protecting the tax-exempt status of faith-based universities that oppose same-sex unions, while others have called to do away with the protection for those institutions.
That particular concern arose during oral arguments heard by the Court prior to their decision, when Justice Samuel Alito asked if institutions like religious schools could lose their tax-exempt status if they opposed same-sex unions. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli responded that “it’s certainly going to be an issue.”

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) told The Weekly Standard in July that he had no “quick answer” about the “challenging area” presented by schools and their religious liberty concerns.

“There’s no question this was an historic decision, and now we’re going to go through a series of suggestions for new laws to implement it,” Durbin said. “I can’t predict how this will end. But from the beginning we have said that when it comes to marriage, religions can decide what their standards will be.”

The Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service testified before a Senate committee in July that Christian schools will not lose their tax-exempt status if their policies oppose same-sex marriage, The Christian Post reported. But Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) was skeptical of Commissioner John Koskinen’s use of the phrase “at this time” in explaining the IRS’ position.

Lee told media, “While I greatly appreciate Commissioner Koskinen’s word that he will not target religious institutions for their religious beliefs, it worries me and it should worry every American that the IRS does not absolutely disavow the power to target religious institutions based on their religious beliefs, even if the current IRS commissioner has committed not to use that power for the time being.”

SBC entity appeals mandate
GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention announced last month it had filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court against a health care mandate that requires some companies it works with to provide abortion-inducing drugs.

While GuideStone and churches are exempt and will not have to pay penalties for refusing to cover drugs like the morning-after pill, the federal government has argued that other religious employers are protected by an accommodation in the mandate.

In a report on the Baptist Press website, GuideStone General Counsel Harold R. Loftin Jr., said the Southern Baptist entity “has, from the filing of our case, objected to the so-called ‘accommodation’ because the government is attempting to rewrite the terms of GuideStone’s plan” to use the plan “to provide access to drugs and devices GuideStone believes to be impermissible.”

GuideStone officials said they are optimistic that the Supreme Court will accept its appeal by the end of September, but regardless of the outcome, President O.S. Hawkins said the organization remains committed to the ministries potentially affected by the mandate if the Supreme Court upholds it.

With reporting from Baptist Press,

Meredith Flynn


Meredith is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.