The Obama administration has decided to continue its legal battle against Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic charity that objects to Obamacare’s mandate that employee health plans cover contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.
The order of Catholic nuns argues that the rule fashioned by the Department of Health and Human Services requires them to violate their religious beliefs by offering insurance coverage for 20 specific drugs and devices — some of which the nuns believe could destroy what they consider a human life.
If the Little Sisters of the Poor choose not to abide by the HHS mandate, they face devastating fines by the Internal Revenue Service that could result in millions of dollars a year being diverted from their mission of caring for elderly women and men.
Sarah Torre, a policy analyst in The Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society who tracks the legal trail of the HHS mandate, said:
It’s really incredible, even after so many losses in federal court, that the Obama administration is doubling down to enforce this coercive mandate against religious organizations – even against charities like the Little Sisters of the Poor who do such necessary and effective work serving those in need.
“The Obama administration is doubling down to enforce this coercive mandate against religious organizations,” said @SarahTorre
Attorneys with the Department of Justice yesterday filed a legal brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver. The action came on the heels of the Obama administration’s “eighth try” to reconcile the HHS mandate with the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty.
The latest revision of the rule, on Aug. 22, would allow religious nonprofits such as the Little Sisters of the Poor to write a letter to HHS informing the government of their objection on religious grounds.
The government then would direct the employer’s insurance company or third-party administrator to cover the objectionable drugs, devices or services.
“Merely offering the Little Sisters a different way to violate their religion does not ease their conscience,” said Adele Keim, counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the religious order.
“Adding another layer of paperwork is a solution that only a bureaucrat could love,” she said.
The government, presenting itself as on the side of employee access to contraceptives, stated in the brief that it is “crucial that these appeals be resolved now.”
“Because of the injunctions issued in these cases, the women employed by plaintiffs have been and continue to be denied access to contraceptive coverage,” government lawyers said in the court filing.
The Little Sisters of the Poor was founded in the United States over 150 years ago. Sisters who belong to the Roman Catholic order dedicate their lives to running homes for the most vulnerable elderly. They vow to care for all human life, especially those deemed weak.
The order says it has served more than 13,000 elderly poor in 31 countries around the world.
In 34 cases challenging Obamacare’s HHS mandate, courts have ruled 31 times against it, according to Becket Fund records.
The legal victories for religious liberty include the Supreme Court’s landmark Hobby Lobby decision. In that widely watched case, the justices ruled that the government can’t compel a “closely held” business such as the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts chain to cover abortion-inducing drugs or devices in employee health plans if doing so would violate the employer’s moral and religious beliefs.
The Obama administration remains “perfectly free” to pursue its goal of contraceptive coverage by working with willing partners, Keim told The Daily Signal, “but what the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act forbids is coercing the Little Sisters of the Poor to convert their own health care plans.”
The Becket Fund attorney said oral arguments in the case are scheduled for Sept. 29, when the Little Sisters will have their first public opportunity to tell their side of the story.
For now, the sisters are protected by the Supreme Court’s temporary injunction against enforcement of the HHS mandate. If it is not made permanent, supporters say, the nuns will have to decide to violate their religious convictions or pay crippling fines to the IRS.