by Jorge Gomez • 4 min read
Since 2011, the Little Sisters of the Poor—a group of Catholic women who quietly serve the impoverished elderly—have been propelled into the spotlight, fighting in federal courts to secure their right to peacefully live according to their religious convictions.
And from the looks of it, their legal battle is far from over.
After eight grueling years of litigation, opponents of religious liberty aren’t giving up in trying to take away the constitutional freedoms of the Little Sisters. That’s why, yet again, they’ve appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to hopefully settle the issue once and for all.
This most recent action comes after a federal appeals court issued a horrendous decision that could force the Catholic nuns to provide contraceptives, including contraception that prevents implantation of a fertilized egg, something that the Little Sisters and many other religious groups consider to be killing a human life.
In its ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stated the Little Sisters were not exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive mandate, a part of the law that requires religious employers and other organizations to provide health plans that include contraception.
Shockingly, the Ninth Circuit isn’t alone.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit also ruled recently that the Little Sisters couldn’t claim a religious objection to the mandate, concluding that doing so wasn’t legally allowed.
Because of the imminent threat these recent decisions pose to religious liberty, First Liberty’s legal team recently filed a critical friend-of-the-court brief supporting the Little Sisters’ petition to the Supreme Court.
In addition, it’s worth noting that both appellate rulings run directly afoul to prior Supreme Court decisions.
In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the contraceptive mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a federal law protecting Americans’ right to live out their faith without burdensome government interference. Two years later, the Supreme Court delivered yet another victory, ruling unanimously that the Little Sisters did not have to provide contraceptives to their employees.
And the Little Sisters haven’t been the only ones who’ve succeeded in court against the ACA’s mandate. For years, First Liberty represented Pastor Chuck Swindoll’s ministry, Insight for Living Ministries (IFLM) and members of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ACA’s contraceptive mandate. In 2017, the Trump administration recognized the burden the mandate placed on religious beliefs and announced new rules to exempt IFLM, CMA, and other religious nonprofit organizations. Shortly thereafter, First Liberty settled the case of IFLM and CMA with the U.S. Department of Justice, ending three years of litigation.
But even worse than defying established and binding legal precedent, the Third and Ninth Circuit’s decisions are an attack on the most fundamental and God-given freedoms found in the First Amendment.
Throughout the seemingly endless years of litigation those on the opposing side have justified this encroachment on constitutional rights as necessary to achieve equal access to health care. But while affordable health care is an attractive goal, it isn’t venerable to do so by forcing Catholic nuns and religious non-profits to violate their beliefs.
On the contrary, it would appear that the real purpose of this ongoing battle is to force people of faith to abandon their convictions and assimilate to the cultural orthodoxy or the popular opinion of the day.
There simply is no benefit in weaponizing government to engage in this type of coercion. It’s long overdue for the U.S. Supreme Court to definitely rule that the Little Sisters shouldn’t have to violate their conscience. Hopefully, their most recent appeal will bring an end to this relentless legal assault on people of faith who selflessly serve our communities and want to do so consistently with their religious beliefs.