The Little Sisters of the Poor take on the Obama administration

“These women just want to take care of the elderly poor without being forced to violate the faith that animates their work.”

This week the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty announced that it has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor against the HHS mandate, which requires that employers pay for contraception and sterilization insurance coverage or else face hefty fines.

The sisters are joined by their benefits providers, Christian Brothers Services and Christian Brothers Employee Benefits Trust, in the first class-action suit against the contraception mandate.

The Little Sisters of the Poor and other plaintiffs in the suit do not qualify for the narrow “religious exemption” outlined by the Obama administration because their purpose is not primarily inculcation of the faith—the Little Sisters’ ministry is serving the elderly—and they do not serve or hire only members of their own religion. Beginning on January 1, 2014, the sisters and other non-exempt employers will be subject to IRS fines of $100 per employee per day of non-compliance with the HHS mandate.

From the Becket Fund’s press release on the lawsuit:

“Like all of the Little Sisters, I have vowed to God and the Roman Catholic Church that I will treat all life as valuable, and I have dedicated my life to that work,” explained Sister Loraine Marie, Superior for one of the three U.S. provinces in the Congregation. “We cannot violate our vows by participating in the government’s program to provide access to abortion inducing drugs.” …

“The Sisters should obviously be exempted as ‘religious employers,’ but the government has refused to expand its definition,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead counsel for the Little Sisters. “These women just want to take care of the elderly poor without being forced to violate the faith that animates their work. The money they collect should be used to care for the poor like it always has—and not to pay the IRS.”

The lawsuit is the first of its kind both because it is a class-action suit that will represent hundreds of Catholic non-profit ministries with similar beliefs and because it is the first on behalf of benefits providers who cannot comply with the Mandate.

Christian Brothers Services also issued a press release on the case:

Since the passage of ACA [the Affordable Care Act] in 2010, Christian Brothers Services has worked alongside other religious denominations to seek an accommodation and/or an exemption from ACA’s contraceptive mandate where compliance with the mandate would violate an employer’s religious beliefs. However, without having secured an exemption through the regulatory process, the plaintiffs in this case felt they had no choice but to seek recourse through litigation, both for themselves and for other similarly situated employers in this plan. According to Brother Michael Quirk, FSC, Ed.D, President/CEO of Christian Brothers Services, “it is clear that the White House and the three federal agencies implementing ACA are committed to a broad definition of preventative care that includes contraceptives and that protection of religious freedom and choice is of little or no concern.”

The plaintiffs in the Christian Brothers Services case are objecting to the requirement to provide contraceptives, including sterilizations and contraceptives that could cause an abortion, such as “morning after” pills or “emergency contraceptives.” The plaintiffs believe that a religious organization should not have to face the choice of violating its faith or, on the other hand, violating the law and face crippling financial penalties.

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About Catherine Harmon 577 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.