If we are a nation founded on the principle that government will keep its hands off religion, how can we be a nation whose government orders Catholic nuns to violate their beliefs?
It's something I've wondered ever since Health and Human Services (HHS) told the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns who care for the elderly poor, that they have to act contrary to their firmly held beliefs and pay for abortion-causing drugs for their employees.
Finally, on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court had its say.
In a unanimous ruling, justices essentially told the lower courts to find a way to accommodate the Little Sisters so their conscience rights would not be violated. The Supremes sent the case back to lower courts to examine an alternative accommodation to the mandate.
“The Court’s decision is a win for the Little Sisters and other groups who needed relief from draconian government fines,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead Becket attorney for the Little Sisters of the Poor. "There is still work to be done, but today’s decision indicates that we will ultimately prevail ...”
What the justices did was to instruct the lower court to find tweaks in the federal HHS mandate to eliminate any faith-based concerns “while still ensuring that the affected women receive contraceptive coverage seamlessly.”
“Given the gravity of the dispute and the substantial clarification and refinement in the positions of the parties, the parties on remand should be afforded an opportunity to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans ‘receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage,’” the justices wrote in the decision.
The point is, you and I may believe abortion-causing drugs belong in Obamacare, but this order of nuns -- whose righteous courage last year inspired a visit by the pope in Washington, D.C. -- believes adamantly it violates the will of God.
The justices' decision is as it should be -- a slap in the face to the Obama Administration’s efforts to crush religious liberty in pursuit of its liberal agenda.
I don't understand why this case is a case at all.
The Supreme Court brief explains why the government doesn't need the Little Sisters: It already has countless 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," says the brief. "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.
Before Obamacare, the Little Sisters provided employee health insurance. Like most plans at the time, theirs did not include contraception, let alone free contraception.
Then came the government’s order -- plus the threat of huge fines -- in fact $70 million in fines -- if they refused to sign the paper that enabled the government "to order their insurers to achieve the aim they consider sinful."
Basically, the Sisters believe the administration is converting them from a private employer that exercises its faith every day to an agent of a government that cares not a jot about their beliefs.
The administration’s disregard for conscience has become entirely transparent. Look at its pick-and-choose exemptions of many secular employers from the contraception mandate: Big corporations that provided substantial health coverage before the enactment of Obamacare are exempt. Cities like New York are off the hook. So are businesses with fewer than 50 workers.
So why wouldn't people of clear, well-established conscience be given the same consideration?
The Obama administration has been on the wrong side of this argument from the start, and in pursuit of compliance it has been absurdly wasteful and needlessly trying.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith