Little Sisters to Supreme Court: Don't make us pick between faith and the poor [CNA]

#1 D.C., Jan 6, 2016 / 03:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Religious sisters should not be forced to choose between caring for the poor and obeying their conscience, the Little Sisters of the Poor told the Supreme Court in a recent legal brief, adding that this is what the government is demanding of them through the HHS mandate.

“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,” she continued, adding that the Little Sisters “cannot possibly choose between our care for the elderly poor and our faith, and we shouldn’t have to.”

Sister Maguire’s comments came Jan. 4, as the Little Sisters filed their Supreme Court brief against the federal contraception mandate.

The case will be heard this Supreme Court term as part of a bundle of cases against the administration’;s contraceptive mandate. Representing the Little Sisters and several other plaintiffs in the case is the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed the brief before the court on Monday.

At issue is a mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services requiring employers to offer health plans covering free contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early abortions.

The Obama administration established narrow religious exemptions for houses of worship and their affiliated groups, but many religiously-affiliated charities, non-profits, and businesses that morally objected to the mandate were required to abide by it.

In response to widespread protest and lawsuits from hundreds of plaintiffs across the country, the administration later offered an “accommodation” to certain objecting religious non-profits, under which they could notify their insurer of their conscientious objection, and the insurer would then fund the coverage.

Critics charged that the financial costs for the objectionable coverage would still be passed on to the employers, and the groups said they would still be forced to act against their religious beliefs by having to “facilitate access” to the services.

Many religious non-profits - including charities, schools, and dioceses - took their cases against the mandate to court. The Little Sisters lost their case at the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2015 after the court ruled that the “accommodation” offered to the sisters did not substantially burden their sincerely-held religious beliefs.

The sisters applied for and received an injunction from the mandate in August, and in November the Supreme Court agreed to hear their case along with the other plaintiffs.

Pope Francis offered a gesture of support for the sisters when he made an unscheduled stop Sept. 23 at their Jeanne Jugan Residence for the low-income elderly in Washington, D.C. during his U.S. visit. The visit was meant as a “sign of support” for the sisters as the Supreme Court was considering taking their case, director of the Holy See Press Office Fr. Federico Lombardi later confirmed to the media.

Ultimately, the brief claims that the government is violating federal law by speaking for the sisters in saying that the accommodation is compatible with their religious beliefs.

The federal law in question, the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, provides that when a government action violates a person’s sincerely-held religious beliefs, the burden of proof is on the government to establish that the action furthers a compelling state interest and is the least-restrictive means of doing so.

Furthermore, though the government may disagree with the person’s religious objections, it may not determine for that person that his conscientious objection is groundless, the brief says.

The administration “wants petitioners to do precisely what their sincere religious beliefs forbid - and it is threatening them with draconian penalties unless they do so,” the document states. “The government’s refusal to acknowledge as much is nothing more than a forbidden attempt to secondguess petitioners’ sincere religious beliefs that the actions the government has demanded of them would constitute sin.”

Additionally, the fact that the administration exempted some employers from the mandate for other reasons undermines their claim that contraception coverage is a compelling interest, since they are not requiring all employers to provide it, the brief claims.

For instance, the health care law exempted "grandfathered plans,” or certain health plans that existed before the law was passed, from having to follow the preventive services mandate, even though it required those plans to offer other coverage benefits, the brief says.

This means that many current plans offered by companies with 200 or more employees are exempt from the contraception mandate, while small businesses with 50 or less employees are exempt from having to provide health insurance altogether.

Furthermore, houses of worship - even those that do not object to the mandate - are exempt from it, meaning that a church could refuse to provide contraception coverage simply out of convenience and not face a penalty.

“If its interests were truly compelling, the government would not exempt the employers of tens of millions of employees from the mandate for mere administrative convenience,” the brief states.

Full article…


This is what I’ve never quite understood about this argument. The heath insurance provided is part of an employee’s compensation. Why is it not an issue if the employee uses the money earned through employment with the sisters, yet is if though the money earned not given as cash but to buy the insurance? The sisters are not culpable in either way that I can see as it is not their choice to buy the contraception with the compensation, which is no longer their resource. The insurance provided does not mandate birth control, it only makes it an option as would any regular cash earned. :shrug:


I see this case ending up in their favor. The typical 5-4 vote seems likely, with Scalia, Alito, Thomas, Roberts, and Kennedy voting on their side.


It might given the precedent of the churches.


The Little Sisters, as an organization, are being forced to participate in evil. This in unacceptable in the Christian faith.


How are they being forced to participate in the point I made? I really haven’t heard a great counter point to it? I’m not asking that they participate, but it doesn’t seem to meet the definition in my view.


The sisters are being forced by a government agency to participate in an insurance plan that violates their conscience. There are at least two ways around this, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act requires the government to use the least restrictive way to further a government interest.

First, if there is a real government interest in making contraception and abortion causing drugs and devices available, the government could provide it directly. There is no necessity to force employers to participate.

Second, employees could have their cash compensation increased and purchase the insurance that best fits their needs and consciences. There is no necessity to force employers to participate.


If someone asked me to summarize the Obama Presidency in a few short words, I think I might sum it as being…“President Obama versus the Little Sisters of the Poor.”


The issue isn’t the end result of the money, it’s that the Sisters are being forced to directly provide for immoral actions. When a person receives a paycheck, what they do with it is more or less their business; the Sisters have nothing to do with it. With the new system, the Sisters are being forced to directly pay for the immoral “services.” It’s a matter of degrees of separation. Through the new insurance laws, they are directly funding abortions and contraception by paying for insurance which pays for those things. If you only look at the end result there’s not much of a difference, but from a moral standpoint the difference between the two is like the distance between Pluto and the Sun.

The law outlines that either they provide abortion/contraception coverage, or pay an excessive, absorbent fine which is designed to bankrupt employers. If I remember the figured correctly, the daily fines levied against them for not providing the coverage are equal to about an eighth of their yearly working budget. You read that correctly. Every day they do not comply, they are fined an amount equal to 1/8th of their yearly budget.

They are being forced under threat of no longer being able to erform the core service they exist for, helping the poor. It is indicative of our current government that they are more interested in handing out contraception and abortion than in actually helping the people who need it most.

If I keep talking about this I’m going to need to go to confession again, so I’m going to stop now…


We all know how the efforts to provide universal health care have gone down in some camps.

Are you really telling me there would be no opposition to employers being forced to increase compensation? Either way, the choice to obtain any sort of contraceptive does sit with the sisters.

Please understand, I’m not against religious freedom or the Catholic church having this teaching (though let’s be honest, it’s much preferable to abortion). But so far this seems to be more an attempt at a symbolic win than anything to me.


I feel the same way about my federal taxes being used to support Planned Parenthood. What PP does (killing of unborn babies) is clearly against the Catholic faith yet I am forced to participate because my taxes make it possible. Unlike the Little Sisters, I do not have the spiritual faith to resist and withhold my taxes but I make my wishes known in other legal ways. The current administration has granted exemptions to other organizations, organizations that are not religious-based, and yet refuses to grant an exemption to the Little Sisters. The question is why grant exemptions to anyone if the law is just and supposedly fair.


If you look at all the gathered statistical data, access to contraception actually increases the frequency of abortion. (This is counting both surgical abortions, which are down in numbers, and chemical, which are up). This is because access to contraception increases risky sexual behavior, and inculcates the notion that sex and conception are not intrinsically linked. When contraceptives fail, the conception is viewed as a mistake that needs correcting rather than the natural outcome of the sexual act. When the new life is viewed as a mistake or a burden, abortion is there to “correct” the “mistake.”


That just isn’t so. They were offered an exemption and they refuse to submit the necessary paperwork for it.


Please reread my previous post’s last sentence.


They were not offered an exemption, they were offered a “workaround” in which they would pay the government, and the government would pay the insurance. This is no exemption, and no workaround, it’s just adding a middleman to the interaction; they are still providing money which is directly slated for the funding of immoral actions.


They are certainly not writing checks to directly pay for this. What they are doing is paying a company to assume the medical expense risk under certain conditions of their employee. As much as the employee chooses to withdraw money from their account for some purpose or exercise the benefit of their medical coverage from a 3rd party that choice is made by the employee. Now if the employee is a nun I can see that differently as she has made a religious choice not to do such things.


No, the contraceptive coverage is at no cost. They were offered an exemption, they rejected it, and now they’re showboating. I have no doubt they will lose this case.


I guess we also need to have a conversation about how contraception and abortion are considered health care. Neither fixes something that is not working properly. These measures prevent a woman’s body from working normally and have negative effects as well as achieving the intended result.

There would be opposition to increased cash compensation in lieu of insurance from the employees because of our dumb tax laws that tax cash but not most benefits, including health insurance. Our system would be more fair and efficient if all compensation was taxed the same. A lot of money is wasted on benefits that are not even used, but seem to be free because of the tax treatment. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

I know it is old fashioned to believe in both personal freedom and personal responsibility.


Please stop repeating this falsehood.

Nothing is free, and the insurer only has money to pay for things from premiums they receive. Claiming the contraception coverage has no cost is a lie.

And no, they didn’t get an exemption. They were offered an accounting gimmick that neither solves the issue nor relieves them of participating in sin.

I know I’ve corrected your false information before on this topic. Your continued repeating of these falsehoods, after you’ve been informed they were falsehoods, is infuriating.


Thanks for tackling this for me, saved me a bit of time.

To reiterate. Nothing is free.

They are writing checks to give to an insurance agent, a specific amount of which is directly intended to fund contraceptives and abortion. The addition of a middleman does not remove the direct intention of the money, since there is no other place that money could go under the law. The reason this is distinct from the employee choosing to pay for it themselves is that the employee receives a sum of money based on the work they do, and it is their choice to direct it in whatever direction they choose to.

Again, the end may be the same, but in one case they are paying for it directly, and in the other they are giving it to an employee who is then paying for it. Morally speaking, the two could not be more different.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit