Sometimes a punt is a win.
And the Little Sisters of the Poor seem to have won a great victory for religious freedom by the Supreme Court's decision to punt the case back to the lower courts. Now, many in the media seem to be saying that this was essentially a "no-decision" but that's not really the case.
The Supreme Court did decline to make a definitive ruling, saying both sides should attempt to forge a compromise which doesn’t mandate that religious organizations offer contraceptive coverage in a way that infringes on their religious freedom. But here's the thing. That's been the argument made by the Little Sisters since the beginning.
Many believed that the court, with now only eight justices because of the sudden and terribly sad death of Justice Antonin Scalia, would be deadlocked over the case. But surprisingly, the decision (the punt) was unanimous.
The court is asking the government to find a way to provide contraceptive coverage that doesn't require the Little Sisters to take part in it by signing a form or doing anything that would make them complicit in triggering that same coverage by another party.
“Both petitioners and the government now confirm that such an option is feasible,” the justices wrote.
The Little Sisters of the Poor, who care for the elderly, had to fight the United States government for the right to follow their faith. That's horrendous.
But we'll take victories where we can get them.
“We are very encouraged by the Court’s decision, which is an important win for the Little Sisters. The Court has recognized that the government changed its position,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead Becket attorney for the Little Sisters of the Poor, in a press release. “It is crucial that the Justices unanimously ordered the government not to impose these fines and indicated that the government doesn’t need any notice to figure out what should now be obvious—the Little Sisters respectfully object. There is still work to be done, but today’s decision indicates that we will ultimately prevail in court.”
“All we have ever wanted to do is serve the neediest among us as if they were Christ himself,” said Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial for the Little Sisters of the Poor in a press release. “We look forward to serving the elderly poor for another 175 years to come.”
While this is a victory, I don't believe this fight is over. Because it's ridiculous to believe that the Obama administration ever needed the Little Sisters of the Poor to give out free contraception. That's something the government could do in myriad ways without infringing on the rights of religious organizations. So this was never about providing contraceptive coverage. So what was the goal? Certainly, there was the politics of it to further the "war on women" battle cry of the left. But I believe the ultimate goal was the erosion of religious liberty.
The federal government was willing to levy crippling fines on the Little Sisters of the Poor (and any organization) in order to accomplish that goal. The truth of it is in the fines themselves. The fines were so draconian as to ensure that no organization could continue to exist while paying them. So the goal wasn't to provide contraceptive coverage because that could have been done easier in other ways. And the goal wasn't the money because no organization could afford to pay such heavy fines. The goal was to remove religious liberty.
That's a scary thought. But even scarier than that is that, if some are to be believed, we are one Supreme Court justice away from them accomplishing that goal.
But let's focus on the positive today. The good guys won today. But keep the Little Sisters of the Poor in your prayers. Something tells me they'll need it.