WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has announced that it will continue its legal fight against the Little Sisters of the Poor over the contraception mandate, which religious-liberty advocates say remains unconscionable.
“Merely offering the Little Sisters a different way to violate their religion does not ease their conscience,” said Adele Keim, counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the Little Sisters of the Poor in court.
“Religious ministries in these cases serve tens of thousands of Americans, helping the poor and homeless and healing the sick. The Little Sisters of the Poor alone serve more than 10,000 of the elderly poor,” she observed in a Sept. 9 statement.
“These charities want to continue following their faith. They want to focus on ministry — such as sharing their faith and serving the poor — without worrying about the threat of massive IRS penalties.”
Keim responded to the federal government’s decision to move forward in a legal fight against the Little Sisters involving the controversial contraception mandate, which requires employers to offer health insurance covering contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early abortions.
The announcement that the administration will continue with the case comes only a month after it released updated rules for the application of the mandate.
The updated rules change the “accommodation” offered to nonprofit religious groups that object to the mandate, including the Little Sisters of the Poor. The revised regulations say that such groups can notify the government of their objections, and the government will reach out to their insurers or a third-party administrator to provide the free coverage.
This is a slight change to the previous rule, which required religious groups to directly authorize the insurers or third-party administrator to offer the coverage they find immoral.
However, many nonprofits still oppose the mandate, calling the accommodation an “accounting gimmick” and saying that insurance companies will ultimately fund the free coverage through increased premiums charged to the employers that objected to paying for the coverage in the first place.
Numerous for-profit employers have also filed lawsuits against the mandate. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with two of these companies — Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties — saying that they cannot be forced to comply with the mandate against their religious beliefs.
In total, the controversial mandate has led to more than 300 lawsuits from individuals and groups who say that it forces them to violate their deeply held religious beliefs. The majority of those cases have seen favorable initial rulings from courts, receiving preliminary injunctions to block the mandate.
Keim said that the Department of Health and Human Services should exempt the Little Sisters of the Poor from the mandate’s demands.
“The government has already exempted millions of Americans from this requirement for commercial or secular reasons, so it should certainly protect the Little Sisters for religious reasons,” she commented.
“Adding another layer of paperwork is a solution that only a bureaucrat could love,” she added. “The federal government has many ways to deliver contraceptives. There’s no reason it should force nuns to do that for them; the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act offer two very good reasons why it shouldn’t.”