The Pope, the Little Sisters, and ObamaCare

Pope Francis’ unexpected and unscheduled visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor, a convent of elderly nuns fighting ObamaCare’s contraception mandate in the courts, is a clear message shot across the Obama administration’s bow that such religious persecution is not acceptable, backing up the American Catholic Church’s mantra: we will not comply

While the lamestream media focuses on the Pope’s seeming alignment on issues such as climate change and immigration reform, the chattering class ignores this ongoing battle over religious liberty. The Pope’s visit was not as impromptu as it might have seemed: As LifeSite News reported:

Father Federico Lombardi said that the Pope’s visit was a surprise that “was not in the program.” He added that “this is a sign, obviously, of support for them” in their court case. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Bishops Conference, was pleased to hear of the Pope’s visit and commented on their current lawsuit.

He said, “As you know the last thing the Little Sisters of the Poor want to do is sue somebody. They don’t want to sue in court. They simply want to serve people who are poor and elderly, and they want to do it in a way that doesn’t conflict with their beliefs.” Archbishop Kurtz added, “We need to make room within our nation for people who have deeply held religious beliefs not to be forced to do that.”

The litigation filed by the Little Sisters of the Poor reflects the view that the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment includes acting on one’s faith in our daily lives. That was the motive behind the suit by the owners of Hobby Lobby, lost by the Obama administration. As Investor’s Business Daily editorialized:

The Little Sisters contend ObamaCare not only violates the First Amendment's religious guarantees, but also the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That requires the government to implement its policies in ways that do not impose an unnecessary burden on the free exercise of religion….

If the Little Sisters lose their case, they'll either have to violate their religious conscience or face fines of around $2.5 million a year, or about 40% of what they beg for annually to care for the dying poor. Their ministry would be severely crippled, as would the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty.

The Obama administration’s hostility to the free exercise of religion was seen in the Hobby Lobby case, in which the government argued that acting on your religious beliefs in your personal and business life was illegal. The courts ruled otherwise and agreed that this was an attempted infringement of the free exercise of religion:

So do scores of Catholic and non-Catholic institutions and businesses who argue either that the way they run their private businesses is an extension of their faith or that a church, something the federal government seeks to redefine, is not something that happens one hour a week on a Sunday but 24/7 through the hospitals, schools, soup kitchens and charities they may operate. They argue that acting out their faith through their works should not be illegal.

After the Hobby Lobby loss, the Obama administration crafted an “opt-out” provision. Organizations could file a religious objection to the ObamaCare mandate being included in their insurance coverage using a form to authorize contraceptive coverage being provided for and paid for by others. To the Little Sisters this was an unacceptable distinction without a difference. They would be condoning contraception even if not paying for it directly:

The case of the feisty nuns challenges a bizarre "accommodation" offered by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS). Under its proposal, the Little Sisters can fill out a government form that notes their objection but that also gives the government authority to have someone else provide that coverage.

"What the government has done, and it's a strange thing to do, is say, 'The only way we'll accept our objection is if on the same piece of paper saying 'I object' you modify the plan to give someone else the authority to give out contraceptives on the plan," Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said at a press conference following the oral arguments.

As the late Francis Cardinal George of Chicago, former head of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, once observed, President Obama’s idea of religious liberty differs little from Joseph Stalin’s:

Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union," Chicago's Francis Cardinal George recently wrote.

"You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship -- no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. We fought a long Cold War to defeat that vision of society."

The Little Sisters of the Poor, one would hope, are not counted among those President Obama once called “less than loving Christians” at an Easter Prayer Breakfast, of all places. The war for religious liberty is still being fought by a group of elderly Catholic nuns against the Obama administration. By their fruits, ye shall know them both.

Daniel John Sobieski is a free lance writer whose pieces have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, Human Events, Reason Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times among other publications.               

Pope Francis’ unexpected and unscheduled visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor, a convent of elderly nuns fighting ObamaCare’s contraception mandate in the courts, is a clear message shot across the Obama administration’s bow that such religious persecution is not acceptable, backing up the American Catholic Church’s mantra: we will not comply

While the lamestream media focuses on the Pope’s seeming alignment on issues such as climate change and immigration reform, the chattering class ignores this ongoing battle over religious liberty. The Pope’s visit was not as impromptu as it might have seemed: As LifeSite News reported:

Father Federico Lombardi said that the Pope’s visit was a surprise that “was not in the program.” He added that “this is a sign, obviously, of support for them” in their court case. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Bishops Conference, was pleased to hear of the Pope’s visit and commented on their current lawsuit.

He said, “As you know the last thing the Little Sisters of the Poor want to do is sue somebody. They don’t want to sue in court. They simply want to serve people who are poor and elderly, and they want to do it in a way that doesn’t conflict with their beliefs.” Archbishop Kurtz added, “We need to make room within our nation for people who have deeply held religious beliefs not to be forced to do that.”

The litigation filed by the Little Sisters of the Poor reflects the view that the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment includes acting on one’s faith in our daily lives. That was the motive behind the suit by the owners of Hobby Lobby, lost by the Obama administration. As Investor’s Business Daily editorialized:

The Little Sisters contend ObamaCare not only violates the First Amendment's religious guarantees, but also the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That requires the government to implement its policies in ways that do not impose an unnecessary burden on the free exercise of religion….

If the Little Sisters lose their case, they'll either have to violate their religious conscience or face fines of around $2.5 million a year, or about 40% of what they beg for annually to care for the dying poor. Their ministry would be severely crippled, as would the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty.

The Obama administration’s hostility to the free exercise of religion was seen in the Hobby Lobby case, in which the government argued that acting on your religious beliefs in your personal and business life was illegal. The courts ruled otherwise and agreed that this was an attempted infringement of the free exercise of religion:

So do scores of Catholic and non-Catholic institutions and businesses who argue either that the way they run their private businesses is an extension of their faith or that a church, something the federal government seeks to redefine, is not something that happens one hour a week on a Sunday but 24/7 through the hospitals, schools, soup kitchens and charities they may operate. They argue that acting out their faith through their works should not be illegal.

After the Hobby Lobby loss, the Obama administration crafted an “opt-out” provision. Organizations could file a religious objection to the ObamaCare mandate being included in their insurance coverage using a form to authorize contraceptive coverage being provided for and paid for by others. To the Little Sisters this was an unacceptable distinction without a difference. They would be condoning contraception even if not paying for it directly:

The case of the feisty nuns challenges a bizarre "accommodation" offered by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS). Under its proposal, the Little Sisters can fill out a government form that notes their objection but that also gives the government authority to have someone else provide that coverage.

"What the government has done, and it's a strange thing to do, is say, 'The only way we'll accept our objection is if on the same piece of paper saying 'I object' you modify the plan to give someone else the authority to give out contraceptives on the plan," Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said at a press conference following the oral arguments.

As the late Francis Cardinal George of Chicago, former head of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, once observed, President Obama’s idea of religious liberty differs little from Joseph Stalin’s:

Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union," Chicago's Francis Cardinal George recently wrote.

"You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship -- no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. We fought a long Cold War to defeat that vision of society."

The Little Sisters of the Poor, one would hope, are not counted among those President Obama once called “less than loving Christians” at an Easter Prayer Breakfast, of all places. The war for religious liberty is still being fought by a group of elderly Catholic nuns against the Obama administration. By their fruits, ye shall know them both.

Daniel John Sobieski is a free lance writer whose pieces have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, Human Events, Reason Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times among other publications.