TAMPA, Fla. – A Southern Baptist business owner whose ancestors fled England four centuries ago to escape religious persecution has filed suit against the Obama administration’s abortion/contraceptive mandate, bringing to 50 the number of lawsuits against the controversial policy.
“This is a case about religious freedom,” the 48-page complaint reads.
The Thomas More Law Center filed the suit Tuesday (March 12) on behalf of Thomas R. Beckwith, the CEO of Beckwith Electric Co. in Largo, Fla. Beckwith is a descendant of the Beckwiths, who in 1626 “endured the hardships of the lengthy and storm-ridden voyage” across the Atlantic Ocean – via a 40-foot ship called the “Sparrow Hawk” – to “escape religious persecution from England,” the complaint says. His ancestors also fought in the Connecticut Militia in the Revolutionary War.
The mandate was issued by the Department of Health and Human Services in August 2011 and went into effect one year later. It forces businesses to pay for employee insurance plans that cover contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs. The latter often are called “emergency contraceptives” and come under brand names such as Plan B and ella.
Beckwith, a member of First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks in Largo, Fla., rejects the notion his business must pay for drugs that are “capable of destroying a human life even after implantation on the uterine wall,” the complaint reads. The complaint quotes extensively the positions of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) on life and religious liberty and also quotes the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and its president, Richard Land.
If Beckwith’s company does not comply with the mandate, it would face fines of more than $6 million per year, according to a press release.
“Based on the beliefs and teachings of the Southern Baptist Convention, and their deeply held beliefs” Beckwith does “not believe that emergency contraception, abortion, abortifacients” and any drug that destroys human life constitutes medicine or health care, the complaint says.
“Indeed, Plaintiffs believe these procedures and drugs involve gravely immoral practices,” the complaint reads.
Beckwith, the complaint reads, “is guided by his religious beliefs in all aspects of his life.” His company is “managed under the living God’s direction and by God’s principles,” it says. The company employs 168 people, is generous in its employee benefits, and employs a chaplain, the complaint says. The company has donated to schools, missions, hospitals, churches and religious causes. The company provides financial assistance to New Life Solutions, which is the ministry head of several crisis pregnancy centers in Florida.
The mandate is an “unprecedented despoiling of religious rights,” the complaint says.
“The Mandate forces employers and individuals to violate their religious beliefs because it requires employers and individuals to pay for and provide insurance” that violates “their deeply held religious beliefs,” the complaint says.
The mandate violates Beckwith’s right to free exercise of religion and free speech under the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Administrative Procedure Act, according to the complaint.
Although the Supreme Court upheld the health care law last June, the justices’ ruling did not deal with the religious liberty issues surrounding the abortion/contraceptive mandate. That means the nation’s highest court could yet strike down what has been for religious groups and some business owners the most controversial part of the law.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)