Court rules against Little Sisters on birth control mandate in Obamacare

by Gregory Tomlin, |
A Catholic nun with Little Sisters of the Poor cares for an elderly person in a nursing home. The religious charity recently lost a case in the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which says they must go through the legal process of filing a religious objection to providing contraceptives in its health plans. | BECKET FUND FOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY/Facebook

DENVER (Christian Examiner) – The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has teed up another potential case for review at the Supreme Court by ruling that a Denver-based Catholic charity – the Little Sisters of the Poor – must comply with procedures for opting out of the birth control mandate in the Patient Protection & Affordable Healthcare Act (also known as "Obamacare").

The charity sued the federal government when it announced in 2011 its plans to offer an "accommodation" for religious organizations that objected to covering contraceptives in their health plans. Under the rules established for religious organizations, those which object must notify the federal government of their claim of conscience in writing.

All we ask is to be able to continue our religious vocation free from government intrusion.

Once the objection is received, the government makes arrangements with a third party insurer to make contraceptives available to the organization's employees at no cost to the religious organization.

That still means that the decision made by the religious organization – in this case opting out of providing contraceptives – could be perceived as a tacit approval of contraception since it will still be provided.

"As Little Sisters of the Poor we simply cannot choose between our care for the elderly poor and our faith, and we should not have to make that choice because it violates our nation's commitment to ensuring that people from diverse faiths can freely follow God's calling in their lives," Mother Provincial Sister Loraine Marie Maguire said in a statement. "All we ask is to be able to continue our religious vocation free from government intrusion."

The court said, however, that the accommodation provided by the government avoids, rather than causes, government intrusion.

"Although we recognize and respect the sincerity of Plaintiffs' beliefs and arguments, we conclude the accommodation scheme relieves Plaintiffs of their obligations under the Mandate and does not substantially burden their religious exercise under [the] RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] or infringe upon their First Amendment rights," the Court said in its ruling.

Mark Rienzi, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead attorney for the Little Sisters of the Poor, said he was disappointed by the ruling.

"After losing repeatedly at the Supreme Court, the government continues its unrelenting pursuit of the Little Sisters of the Poor. 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."

The Little Sisters of the Poor operates nursing homes and other Catholic charities around the country.