Supreme Court Victory for Little Sisters of the Poor

News: Government
by Rodney Pelletier  •  •  May 16, 2016   

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WASHINGTON ( - The Little Sisters of the Poor and other faith-based groups have won a partial victory in the Supreme Court, which is striking down lower court rulings forcing a religious order to participate in a healthcare scheme to provide contraceptives to employees.

The Supreme Court voted unanimously Monday that the Little Sisters of the Poor and other defendants — including Priests for Life, the Archbishop of Washington, and three Protestant organizations — are to be allowed to follow their religious convictions regarding the Affordable Care Act.

In January 2012 the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — required that all employer health plans provide free contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs to employees. Although it provided an exemption to faith-based groups, the Sisters and other groups have argued the exemption still involves them in a gravely immoral scheme that violates the tenets of their faith.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the Sisters, stated earlier, "The government wants to say that the Little Sisters' theology is wrong and [that they] aren't religious enough to get respect for their faith. This is the core of the case, the 'theology is wrong' point comes in, because they're saying that the Little Sisters [are wrong] when they say, 'We have a sincere objection.'"

But the decision isn't exactly a slam-dunk for the Sisters. Their lawyers, however, agree it's a move in the right direction. Senior counsel for the Becket Fund Mark Rienzi commented,

It is crucial that the Justices unanimously ordered the government not to impose these fines and indicated that the government doesn't need any notice to figure out what should now be obvious — the Little Sisters respectfully object. There is still work to be done, but today's decision indicates that we will ultimately prevail in court.

The Sisters and others would have had to pay $100 per employee for every day they refused to follow the Obamacare mandate.

Senior Counsel David Cortman, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, praised the ruling.

Religious organizations have the freedom to peacefully operate according to their beliefs without fear of severe penalties by the government. … The government has many other ways to ensure women are able to obtain these drugs without forcing people of faith to participate in acts that violate their deepest convictions. We look forward to addressing the remaining details as we advance these cases in the lower courts.

Liberal Catholic Justice Sonia Sotomayor cautions that the judgment shouldn't imply the Court agrees with the merits of the defendant's case. She states that it "'afford[s] an opportunity' for the parties and Courts of Appeals to reconsider the parties' arguments in light of petitioners' new articulation of their religious objection and the Government's clarification about what the existing regulations accomplish ... ."

She notes that "the Courts of Appeals remain free to reach the same conclusion or a different one on each of the questions presented by these cases."

During earlier arguments, Justice Samuel Alito suggested that Obamacare, applied to this situation, "presents an unprecedented threat to religious liberty in this country."

Chief Justice John Roberts called the Obama administration's imposition a "violation of a basic principle of faith."

Earlier, House Speaker Paul Ryan spoke up for the Sisters, saying, "The burden is not on your faith to obey government mandates, the burden is on the government to respect your faith."


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