DENVER, July 15, 2015 (ChurchMilitant.com) - According to a federal appeals court, the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic women religious that focuses on caring for the elderly, is obliged by law to sign off on contraception coverage for its employees' health plans.
After the Obama administration's Health and Human Services department mandated that employers provide contraception, sterilization and abortifacients as part of the Affordable Care Act, the Little Sisters sued to avoid cooperating with gravely immoral activity.
Yesterday in Denver, however, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that they have no right to conscientiously opt out of the HHS' "birth control" mandate.
Because of an accommodation for faith-based employers, the Little Sisters wouldn't have to cover contraceptives directly, but they would still be required to sign off on a third party's coverage for it, as they don't qualify for a total exemption like a church would. And while the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that closely held, for-profit companies can be exempt from the mandate to preserve religious freedom, the 10th Circuit court says non-profits can't, since they have an option for third-party accommodations that for-profits don't.
"Although we recognize and respect the sincerity of plaintiffs' beliefs and arguments," the three-judge panel stated yesterday, "we conclude the accommodation scheme ... does not substantially burden their religious exercise."
"The accommodation relieves plaintiffs from complying with the mandate and guarantees they will not have to provide, pay for, or facilitate contraceptive coverage," declared the federal judges.
The Little Sisters have no plans to let a court bully them into sinful acts that violate their Catholic consciences, though. Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial of the Sisters, following the decision, affirmed, "As Little Sisters of the Poor, we simply cannot choose between our care for the elderly poor and our faith."
"And we should not have to make that choice," she asserts, "because it violates our nation's commitment to ensuring that people from diverse faiths can freely follow God's calling in their lives. For over 175 years, we have served the neediest in society with love and dignity."
"All we ask is to be able to continue our religious vocation free from government intrusion," Sr. Maguire explains.
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the Little Sisters, isn't pleased with the court's ruling. He asserts, "After losing repeatedly at the Supreme Court, the government continues its unrelenting pursuit of the Little Sisters of the Poor."
"It is a national embarrassment that the world's most powerful government insists that, instead of providing contraceptives through its own existing exchanges and programs, it must crush the Little Sisters' faith and force them to participate," says Rienzi.
He insists he and the Becket Fund will appeal to the Supreme Court to protect the Little Sisters' religious rights.
What happens if the nation's highest court declines to hear their case, or winds up siding with the appeals court? Then the Little Sisters would be forced into a simple choice: Defy God and jeopardize their souls, or face fines of up to $2.5 million for every year of non-compliance.
Either way, the Little Sisters of the Poor would be severely crippled in their mission.