Do you sometimes feel like you've been kicked in the stomach when you watch the news on TV?
Yesterday was one of those days. Religious liberty is a foundational value for the U.S., but yesterday was a kick-in-the-stomach day for those who value this First Amendment right.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth District ruled that the Little Sisters of the Poor, nuns who provide homes and services for the indigent elderly, must comply with the Department of Health and Human Services contraception mandate, even though to do so would violate their consciences.
There are plenty of programs to supply contraception, including to the poor, without forcing the nuns to go against their beliefs. There is no practical reason for the government to do this, and one very big reason not to do it: the right to religious liberty.
Mark Rienzi, a lawyer with The Becket Fund, which takes religious liberty cases and represents the Little Sisters, had this to say:
It is a national embarrassment that the world’s most powerful government insists that, instead of providing contraceptives through its own existing exchanges and programs, it must crush the Little Sisters’ faith and force them to participate. Untold millions of people have managed to get contraceptives without involving nuns, and there is no reason the government cannot run its programs without hijacking the Little Sisters and their health plan.
Here is how the Becket Fund described the ruling (it includes a link):
Today the Tenth Circuit ruled that government can force the Little Sisters to either violate their faith or pay massive IRS penalties. The court held that participating in the government’s contraception delivery scheme is “as easy as obtaining a parade permit, filing a simple tax for, or registering to vote” and that although the Sisters sincerely believe that participating in the scheme “make[s] them complicit in the overall delivery scheme,” the court “ultimately rejects the merits of this claim,” because the court believes the scheme relieves [the Little Sisters] from complicity.”
The Little Sisters, who should have the right to be guardians of their consciences, disagree. Sister Lorain Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial, said:
For over 175 years, we have served the neediest in society with love and dignity. All we ask is to be able to continue our religious vocation free from government intrusion.
The Little Sisters do not qualify for a religious exemption the government had made available because they are not affiliated with a parish church or any particular house of worship.
It the Little Sisters do not comply (and they won't), they will have to pay ruinous IRS penalties.
The Little Sisters of the Poor receive some of their funding in a way that St. Francis would have recognized: begging. They show up at Catholic churches and ask people to put money in a basket. From my experience, they are always humble but impressive women.
The work they do for the poor is invaluable and filled with love, but likely the Obama administration wouldn't mind seeing government replace them in their work, if it came to that.