Catholics, Evangelicals, Jews Join Forces, Ask Supreme Court to Take Obamacare Contraceptive Mandate Case

Members of a Catholic order of nuns known as the Little Sisters of the Poor stand outside the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals building in Denver, Colorado, along with William Mumma, President of the Becket Fund.
Members of a Catholic order of nuns known as the Little Sisters of the Poor stand outside the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals building in Denver, Colorado, along with William Mumma, President of the Becket Fund. | (Photo: The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty)

As the Little Sisters of the Poor are petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a federal court decision that forces the order of Catholic nuns to abide by the "Obamacare" contraception mandate, over 20 states, a group of Orthodox Jewish rabbis and a number of Evangelical and secular organizations are urging the high court to take up the case and protect religious liberty.

"We are deeply grateful for the outpouring of support we have received from such a wide range of people and groups," Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial for the Little Sisters of the Poor, said in a statement. "We simply ask the government to allow us to continue our ministry of caring for the elderly poor as we have for over 175 years without being forced to violate our faith or pay government fines."

In July, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious institutions must abide by the exemption rules of the Affordable Care Act's, or "Obamacare's," Health and Human Services contraception mandate.

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The exemption requires institutions with religious objections to providing their employees with health coverage that includes birth control and abortion-inducing drugs to sign a document to allow a third-party to provide such drugs.

Although the lawyers representing the institutions claimed that obeying such an exemption would continue to violate the institutions' religious beliefs because it still requires them to participate in the distribution of the objectionable drugs to its employees, the court ruled that the exemption was good enough to prevent the institutions from violating their religious beliefs.

Should the Little Sisters of the Poor or the other religious institutions be found in violation of the mandate, then they could be liable for paying millions of dollars in penalties.

In late July, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Supreme Court attorney Paul Clement filed a petition to the Supreme Court on behalf of the Little Sisters, Christian Brothers Services, Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, Reaching Souls International, Truett-McConnell College, and GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. The petition is the fifth one the Supreme Court has received on the HHS contraception mandate, making it likely that the Supreme Court will decide in the upcoming term whether these groups should be protected from the mandate.

As of Monday, a number of groups have written friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the order.

Briefs were written by six different orders of Catholic nuns, a coalition of Orthodox Jewish Rabbis, 20 state governments, the ERLC, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, National Association of Evangelicals, the Cato Institute and a multitude other religious and secular organizations, who urge the Supreme Court to not only review the nuns' case but also reverse the appeals court's decision.

"This strong show of support for the Little Sisters demonstrates just how important it is that the Supreme Court address the impact of the HHS mandate, particularly on religious groups," Mark Rienzi, Becket Fund senior counsel, said in a statement.

"It is especially significant that 20 state governments are supporting the Little Sisters at the Supreme Court."

Last week, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Little Sisters will not have to abide by the mandate while their lawsuit against the mandate continues.

"The Sisters consider it immoral to help the government distribute these drugs. But instead of simply exempting them, the government insists that it can take over their ministry's employee healthcare to distribute these drugs to their employees, while dismissing the Sisters' moral objections as irrelevant," Rienzi stated. "In America, judges and government bureaucrats have no authority to tell the Little Sisters what is moral or immoral."

Last year, the Christian arts supply chain Hobby Lobby was successful in their Supreme Court case against the HHS mandate.

"The Supreme Court has already granted interim relief from the HHS Mandate to religious groups five times," Rienzi added. "The government has exempted thousands of businesses from the HHS Mandate, so why is it needlessly forcing religious institutions, nuns and homeless shelters to carry out its goals? The government already has its own exchanges to do that."

According to the brief written by the Jewish rabbis, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to protect the nuns' religious freedom because it found their explanation of their own religious objection the mandate "unconvincing."

"RFRA neither requires nor allows courts to second-guess religious adherents' sincerely held religious beliefs," the brief states. "In evaluating and ultimately rejecting the petitioners' claim that complying with the Health and Human Services Accommodation would substantially burden their religious exercise, the Tenth Circuit deviated from this precedent and significantly narrowed RFRA's protection."

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