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Little Sisters of the Poor Appeal to Supreme Court for Protection Against Feds



Nuns from the Little Sisters of the Poor gather in New York September 24, 2015 as Pope Francis now heads to New York City. He is set to arrive and hold a prayer service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARY

John Burger - published on 01/09/16

Facing $70 million in fines, order that cares for elderly asks for intervention

Seventy million dollars is a lot of dough for a group named the Little Sisters of the Poor.

But that’s what the religious order says it will be forced to pay the government if they continue to refuse to arrange for insurance that provides lay employees coverage for contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization.

This week, the sisters, along with several Christian colleges and other entities, filed a brief with the Supreme Court, which is hearing a challenge to the Obamacare “Contraceptive Mandate” in March.

The religious objectors are represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Alliance Defending Freedom.

“The Little Sisters spend their lives taking care of the neediest members of our society — that is work our government should applaud, not punish,” said Mark Rienzi, Becket Fund senior counsel. “The Little Sisters should not have to fight their own government to get an exemption it has already given thousands of other employers, including big companies like Exxon and Pepsi Cola Bottling Company.”

The high court has already given the Sisters preliminary protection once, in January 2014. The new brief, which was filed by the Becket Fund along with former Solicitor General Paul Clement, chides the government for its “deceptive labels and diversionary tactics” designed to falsely suggest that the Little Sisters can “opt out” of the mandate.

The Becket Fund explains that the “accommodation” the government has offered religious objectors actually entangles the entities in the objectionable practices. Signing off on the paperwork the government requires for an objector to get an “exemption” gives the  government the power to use its own insurance plan to provide the contraceptives and other services.

The brief also explains why the government does not need the Little Sisters at all: it already has many other ways to get contraceptive coverage to those who want it. “Indeed, the government has invested billions of dollars in creating exchanges for the express purpose of making it easy to obtain qualifying insurance when it is not available through an employer.  The government cannot explain why those exchanges suffice to advance its goal of getting contraceptive coverage to the tens of millions of [other] people …  yet are not good enough” for the employees of the Little Sisters.

“As Little Sisters of the Poor, we offer the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they are welcomed as Christ,” said Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial of the Little Sisters of the Poor. “We perform this loving ministry because of our faith and cannot possibly choose between our care for the elderly poor and our faith, and we shouldn’t have to. All we ask is that our rights not be taken away.”

The brief was filed on behalf of several other entities facing the same mandate as the Little Sisters, including Becket clients Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, Christian Brothers Services, Reaching Souls International, Truett-McConnell College, and GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, Houston Baptist and East Texas Baptist Universities, along with Westminster Theological Seminary, South Nazarene University and Geneva College.

“It is ridiculous for the federal government to claim, in this day and age, that it can’t figure out how to distribute contraceptives without involving nuns and their health plans,” said senior counsel Mark Rienzi.

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