Little Sisters' Religious Liberty Goes on Trial

This is the kind of case the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia liked to sink his judicial teeth into -- whether the federal government can compel a religious entity like the Little Sisters of the Poor to violate their religious beliefs and acquiesce to the ObamaCare contraceptive coverage mandate. As LifeSite News reported on Wednesday’s hearing:

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a 175-year-old religious order of women who have vowed their lives to care for the elderly poor.

At the hearing, the justices pressed the government with hard questions on why it is trying to force the Sisters to violate their religious beliefs when it has chosen to exempt so many other employers from the mandate. Justice Ginsburg noted that “no one doubts for a moment” the sincerity of the Little Sisters’ beliefs. And other justices expressed concern the government was, in fact, “hijacking” the Little Sisters’ health plan and making them “subsidiz[e] conduct which they believe to be immoral.” Yet the government specifically stated that it not only believes it can force its scheme on the Little Sisters, but also on churches and other houses of worship -- making them help provide “seamless” coverage for services like the week-after pill.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, and many Americans, don’t quite get this assault on religious liberty by the Obama administration as part of its “fundamental transformation” of America. Neither does Sister Loraine Marie McGuire, Mother Provincial for the Little Sisters of the Poor, who on Wednesday said in a statement:

…now we find ourselves in a situation where the government is requiring us to include services in our religious health care plan that violate some of our deepest held religious beliefs as Little Sisters.

We don’t understand why the government is doing this when there is an easy solution that doesn’t involve us -- it can provide these services on the exchanges.  It’s also hard to understand why the government is doing this when 1/3 of all Americans aren’t even covered by this mandate, and large corporations like Exxon, Visa, and Pepsi are fully exempt, yet the government threatens us with fines of 70 million dollars per year if we don’t comply.

The litigation filed by the Little Sisters of the Poor reflects the view that the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment is not limited to one hour on a weekend but 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 region 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 that in the Hobby Lobby case 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.

After their case was heard before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in December of 2018, an attorney representing them made this observation, the Catholic News Agency reported:

"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 Josef 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 being 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, the Manchester Union Leader and the Chicago Sun-Times among other publications.               

This is the kind of case the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia liked to sink his judicial teeth into -- whether the federal government can compel a religious entity like the Little Sisters of the Poor to violate their religious beliefs and acquiesce to the ObamaCare contraceptive coverage mandate. As LifeSite News reported on Wednesday’s hearing:

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a 175-year-old religious order of women who have vowed their lives to care for the elderly poor.

At the hearing, the justices pressed the government with hard questions on why it is trying to force the Sisters to violate their religious beliefs when it has chosen to exempt so many other employers from the mandate. Justice Ginsburg noted that “no one doubts for a moment” the sincerity of the Little Sisters’ beliefs. And other justices expressed concern the government was, in fact, “hijacking” the Little Sisters’ health plan and making them “subsidiz[e] conduct which they believe to be immoral.” Yet the government specifically stated that it not only believes it can force its scheme on the Little Sisters, but also on churches and other houses of worship -- making them help provide “seamless” coverage for services like the week-after pill.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, and many Americans, don’t quite get this assault on religious liberty by the Obama administration as part of its “fundamental transformation” of America. Neither does Sister Loraine Marie McGuire, Mother Provincial for the Little Sisters of the Poor, who on Wednesday said in a statement:

…now we find ourselves in a situation where the government is requiring us to include services in our religious health care plan that violate some of our deepest held religious beliefs as Little Sisters.

We don’t understand why the government is doing this when there is an easy solution that doesn’t involve us -- it can provide these services on the exchanges.  It’s also hard to understand why the government is doing this when 1/3 of all Americans aren’t even covered by this mandate, and large corporations like Exxon, Visa, and Pepsi are fully exempt, yet the government threatens us with fines of 70 million dollars per year if we don’t comply.

The litigation filed by the Little Sisters of the Poor reflects the view that the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment is not limited to one hour on a weekend but 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 region 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 that in the Hobby Lobby case 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.

After their case was heard before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in December of 2018, an attorney representing them made this observation, the Catholic News Agency reported:

"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 Josef 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 being 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, the Manchester Union Leader and the Chicago Sun-Times among other publications.