Another Blow To Religious Liberty: Little Sisters Of The Poor Lose Appeal

Little sisters of the poor

  • Photo from US News

The first amendment is dead.  If it is not, the government and the courts are doing its best to kill it.  Following the passage of the “Affordable Care” Act, which is not caring and not affordable, there have been a number of challenges to the mandate that employers MUST provide sterilization services and contraception to their employees via health insurance.  As we all know, the most famous of these challenges was the Hobby Lobby case where the arts and crafts store, privately owned by pro-life Christians sought a reprieve based on conscientious objection.  At the Supreme Court level, they received a partial victory earlier this year.

Today, from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals comes a decision on this topic against Denver’s province of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order of sisters that serves the elderly, caring for them until natural death.  Because they are religious, albeit laity, it was thought that the religious institution exemption would safeguard them.  Not so.

Because the Little Sisters of the Poor are not affiliated with a particular house of worship, they do not qualify for the religious exemption to the mandate. The federal government has argued that it has sufficiently provided for the religious freedom of the Little Sisters and other religious organizations through an “accommodation” under which the faith-based employers can pass the burden of providing the objectionable coverage to insurers, who must then offer it directly to employees without cost.

Such logic is ludicrous on its face.  The employer still has to pay the insurer.  Payment might be a couple steps down the flow chart, but it’s still there.  And religious laity groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the Christian Brothers as it happens, with their own 501(c)(3) designations are not counted as a “house of worship.”

In Catholicism, orders of lay religious serve within a diocese or archdiocese at the invitation of a bishop, however, they are not part of the diocesan structure.  As such, where all Catholic dioceses as an institution of worship in the United States are a single non-profit under the Archdiocese of New York, lay orders do not have that protection.  

What is most sad about this, is these dynamic women do a service in our society that few are willing to take on.  They care for people who are dying.  Annually, they come into all parishes to literally beg for donations.  According to Catholic News Agency, the Little Sisters’ annual income is roughly $6 million.  If they fail to comply with the mandate, and pay the penalty instead, $2.5 million of that money will go to the government, not the care of the indigent elderly.

“As Little Sisters of the Poor, we simply cannot choose between our care for the elderly poor and our faith,” said Mother Provincial Sr. Loraine Marie Maguire.

“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. 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.”

Forcing a religious order of women who have taken a vow of celibacy, and live in poverty not simply by choice, but as a way to help the poor far less expensively than the government can, to pay for contraception coverage in insurance that is probably not going to be used given that their few employees are most likely Catholic is nothing but forcing religious people to comply just because the government can.  As a bonus, the Catholic agencies that had a large stake in health care will give up their missions rather than see them compromised.

“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,” Becket Fund senior counsel Mark Rienzi said. “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.”

What sort of religious liberty is that?

Some information in this piece was obtained at The Denver Post.

About the Author

Cultural Limits
A resident of Flyover Country, Cultural Limits is a rare creature in American Conservatism - committed to not just small government, Christianity and traditional social roles, but non-profits and high arts and culture. Watching politics, observing human behavior and writing are all long-time interests. In her other life, CL writes romance novels under her nom de plume, Patricia Holden (@PatriciaHoldenAuthor on Facebook), and crochets like a mad woman (designs can be found on Facebook @BohemianFlairCrochet and on Pinterest on the Bohemian Flair Crochet board). In religion, CL is Catholic; in work, the jill of all trades when it comes to fundraising software manipulation and event planning; in play, a classically trained soprano and proud citizen of Cardinal Nation, although, during hockey season, Bleeds Blue. She lives in the Mid-Mississippi River Valley with family and two cute and charming tyrants...make that toy dogs.