Court rules against Little Sisters of the Poor

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Ruling to force nuns to violate faith or pay massive IRS penalties

July 14, 2015

In a departure from the U.S. Supreme Court’s protection of the Little Sisters of the Poor last year, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Little Sisters must comply with the government’s contraceptive mandate.

The federal Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate forces religious ministries to violate their faith or pay massive IRS penalties.

Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial of the Little Sisters of the Poor, stated, “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, because it violates our nation’s commitment to ensuring that people from diverse faiths can freely follow God’s calling in their lives.”

The Little Sisters have served the neediest in society across the world with dignity for more than 175 years.

“All we ask is to be able to continue our religious vocation free from government intrusion,” she said.

Attorneys from The Becket Fund for Religious Freedom presented the nuns’ case in a lawsuit challenging the mandate, a part of the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare. The nuns argued the government is forcing them to act against their religious beliefs because of its requirement to provide free contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs to employees, or pay steep fines.

The Little Sisters care for the elderly poor.

Churches are exempt from the mandate, but charitable organizations like the Little Sisters are not.

Mother Patricia Mary Metzgar, l.s.p., who oversees the Little Sisters’ Mullen Home for the Aged in Denver, has attended some of the court hearings with other nuns. The Little Sisters of Denver employ about 67 full-time employees.

Mark Rienzi, senior attorney of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead attorney for the Little Sisters, reacted to the ruling saying he was disappointed.

“After losing repeatedly at the Supreme Court, the government continues its unrelenting pursuit of the Little Sisters of the Poor,” he said in a statement. “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. Untold millions of people have managed to get contraceptives without involving nuns, and there is no reason the government cannot run its programs without hijacking the Little Sisters and their health plan.”

Rienzi appeared on Fox News’ “The Kelly File” July 14 to discuss the court ruling.

Before the court’s ruling, the nuns filed an appeal Feb. 2014 in Denver federal court and were granted a temporary injunction, which shielded them from the HHS mandate and its fines. At issue is a waiver form the sisters could sign to receive an exemption from the mandate, but the appeal states that it “would make them morally complicit in sin, would contradict their public witness to the value of life, and would immorally run the risk of misleading others.” The form in fact would authorize a third-party to provide the services they find morally objectionable.

The appeal argued the HHS mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment that guarantee freedom of religion. The court heard oral arguments in the case in December, when Sister Maguire delivered her first public statement.

On July 14, the 10th Circuit ruled that the government can force the Little Sisters to adhere to the mandate. It said that participating in the HHS mandate is “as easy as obtaining a parade permit, filing a simple tax form, or registering to vote.” It also ruled that although the nuns argued it would make “them complicit in the overall delivery scheme,” the court “ultimately rejects the merits of this claim” because the court believes the exemption “relieves [the Little Sisters] from complicity.”

The Little Sisters and their attorneys are reviewing the court’s decision and will decide whether to bring their case to the Supreme Court, according to the Becket Fund.

“We will keep on fighting for the Little Sisters, even if that means having to go all the way to the Supreme Court,” Daniel Blomberg, attorney at the Becket Fund, said in a statement.

The court’s order also impacts the Christian Brothers Services and Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, the Catholic ministries through which the Little Sisters obtain their health coverage.

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