Loading...
Loading...
Click here if you don’t see subscription options
A group of Little Sisters of the Poor are joined by other women as they walk down the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington in 2016 after attending oral arguments in the Zubik v. Burwell contraceptive mandate case. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Little Sisters of the Poor are once again going to the Supreme Court.

The order of women religious who care for the elderly poor have been down this road before, twice defending their right to not comply with the government's health law requiring employers to provide contraceptive coverage in their health plans.

Now the court is about to look at the Affordable Health Care's contraceptive mandate from a different angle, examining if the Trump administration can legally allow religious employers to opt out of the mandate.

In 2013, religious groups and houses of worship were granted a religious exemption by the Supreme Court from the government's mandate in the Affordable Care Act to include coverage of contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health plan.

Three years later, religious nonprofit groups challenged the requirement they comply with the mandate and the court sent the cases back to the lower courts with instructions for the federal government and the challengers to try to work out a solution agreeable to both sides.

In 2017, religious groups were given further protection from the contraceptive mandate through an executive order issued by President Donald Trump requiring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to write a comprehensive exemption to benefit religious ministries, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, from the contraceptive mandate.

HHS provided this exemption in 2018, but several states challenged it, including California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, saying HHS didn't have the power to give this exemption.

The states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey obtained a nationwide injunction against the rules protecting religious objectors from the contraceptive mandate; that injunction was then upheld by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Philadelphia.

This is where the Little Sisters come in. They appealed the circuit court's ruling and asked the Supreme Court to step in.

In one of the two consolidated cases, Trump v. Pennsylvania, the administration has argued that the exceptions to the contraceptive mandate for religious groups were authorized by the health care law and required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA.

Lawyers for Pennsylvania and New Jersey said the administration lacked statutory authority to issue such regulations and said the government did not follow proper administrative procedures.

The second case will examine if the Little Sisters of the Poor had the standing to appeal the 3rd Circuit ruling since a separate court order had already allowed them to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage in their employee health plans.

"It is disappointing to think that as we enter a new decade we must still defend our ministry in court," said Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters of the Poor. "We are grateful the Supreme Court has decided to weigh in, and hopeful that the justices will reinforce their previous decision," she said in a statement.

Mark Rienzi, president of Becket, a nonprofit religious liberty law firm that represents the sisters, agreed, saying: "It is time for the Supreme Court to finally put this issue to rest."

The oral arguments, which will be heard by the court later this spring are the combined cases of Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed a friend-of-the-court brief Nov. 1, siding with the Little Sisters of the Poor and stressing that the court needs to set the record straight particularly with its interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

RFRA -- which says, "Governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification" -- was passed by Congress in 1993 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

The USCCB brief said there was a compelling need to review this case not only because the 3rd Circuit Court decision conflicts with other Supreme Court rulings on this topic in Hobby Lobby and Zubik decisions, but because its ruling "threatens to reduce one of America’s leading civil rights laws to virtual impotence," referring to RFRA.

This case, like previous ones, it said, asks if RFRA protects the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious employers from federal regulations requiring most large employers to include contraceptive coverage in their healthcare plans.

It emphasized that RFRA essentially hangs in the balance because the appeals court "adopted a grudging interpretation of the statute that will, unless reversed, too often deny protection for religious people and institutions."

"Only this court's intervention can ensure that RFRA remains a meaningful security for religious freedom," it added.

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

City and state/province, or if outside Canada or the U.S., city and country. 
When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

The latest from america

A heart drawn in the sand next to the water on a beach.
Our eschatology became focused upon place rather than person, but that is a fundamental distortion of the Gospel preached by the disciples.
Terrance KleinJune 29, 2022
Photo: Planet Fitness (@PlanetFitness)
The fact is, no one—no church or priest, friendly gym or unfriendly one—can judge us without our cooperation.
Joe Hoover, S.J.June 29, 2022
Close-up of a bride and groom holding hands on their wedding day.
Preparation for marriage should rely less on workbooks and more on prayer and community.
Simcha FisherJune 29, 2022
FILE - Archbishop Gregory Aymond conducts the procession to lead a live streamed Easter Mass in St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, Sunday, April 12, 2020. The FBI has opened a widening investigation into Roman Catholic sex abuse in New Orleans, looking specifically at whether priests took children across state lines to molest them. The FBI declined to comment, as did the Louisiana State Police, which is assisting in the inquiry. The Archdiocese of New Orleans declined to discuss the federal investigation.
The F.B.I. has opened a widening investigation into sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in New Orleans going back decades.