Little Sisters v. Big Brother: Religious Freedom on the Line

 The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in a case that will shape the future of religious liberty in our nation.

In Zubik v. Burwell, the Court consolidated a number of cases involving religious organizations—including the Little Sisters of the Poor—that are opting out of the government’s requirement to provide abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization procedures, and carcinogenic contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Life Legal filed an amicus brief in support of the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns who dedicate their lives to serving the poor and elderly. The Little Sisters are committed to the sanctity of human life and the Catholic Church’s teaching on artificial birth control and abortion. The Sisters will not violate their most deeply held beliefs, even under the threat of $70 million in annual fines.

Several justices pointed to the government’s “accommodation” they believed would allow the organization to comply with the ACA. Instead of purchasing the offending coverage directly, the Little Sisters should just tell the government they object and the government will order the insurance carriers to provide the coverage. Since the Little Sisters still have to pay the insurance premiums, the accommodation does not remedy the problem. One way or another, the government is still forcing religious organizations to pay for drugs and procedures they believe are morally illicit, forcing them to cooperate with an evil.

Note that the government did not hesitate to accommodate the financial concerns of large corporations when they sought to avoid complying with certain ACA provisions. Exxon-Mobil, for example, also does not provide contraceptive coverage for many of its employees, yet does not have to defend its actions in federal court.

These were some of the justices’ comments:

Chief Justice John Roberts: “It’s a question whether you want the employee to sign a paper or you want the Little Sisters to sign a paper. In the one case, it’s an administrative burden…. In the other case, it’s a violation of a basic principle of faith.”

Justice Stephen Breyer: “Sometimes when a religious person who’s not a hermit or a monk is a member of society, he does have to accept all kinds of things that are just terrible for him.”

Justice Samuel Alito: “… this presents an unprecedented threat to religious liberty in this country.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy: Enforcing the contraceptive mandate against religious organizations puts them in the position of  “in effect, subsidizing the conduct that they deemed immoral.”

Life Legal applauds the Little Sisters for standing firm. I was proud to join them outside the Supreme Court to support religious freedom. Please pray for this case—it will likely end in a 4-4 decision, which means it will be before the Supreme Court again once a new justice is confirmed.