The Supreme Court on Friday granted an injunction that exempts nuns in the Little Sisters of the Poor from having to deliver contraceptives to employees until their case works it way through the judicial system.
All the justices want is a statement from the Catholic order that the nuns are, in fact, “religious.”
The case has become a lightning rod for those who are fighting Obamacare demands that employers provide contraceptives, including those that act as abortifacients, for employees.
The order of nuns, founded in the early 1800s, is dedicated to helping the poorest of the seniors and to acting in Christ’s stead whenever they can.
Members are not making public statements on their legal case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court – they leave that to their attorneys. But they have prepared a video that communicates their priorities: Christ and their patients.
Sister Mary Bernard explains: “We’re here to live for Him, and for Him and the elderly. That’s our life.”
That goal doesn’t include abortifacients for all, apparently.
The Obama administration, however, had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to let an injunction issued by Justice Sonia Sotomayor expire so that the nuns would be forced into a decision to violate their faith or pay an estimated $4.5 million a year in fines to the Internal Revenue Services.
They’ve been relieved of that fight, for now.
The ruling from the high court on Friday said, “If the employer applicants inform the Secretary of Health and Human Services in writing that they are non-profit organizations that hold themselves out as religious and have religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services, the respondents are enjoined from enforcing against the applicants the challenged provisions of the [Obamacare].”
The court asks only that a statement be submitted, pointedly explaining, “applicants need not use the form prescribed by the government and need not send copies to third-party administrators.”
That was a key part of the dispute, because in applying for an exemption, the government’s form, which is defined as “an instrument under which this health plan is operated,” technically would give permission for abortifacient distribution by a third party on behalf of the nuns.
Their current health-care plan disallows any such drugs or treatments.
But Obama is making it mandatory for Americans to support abortifacients and related services or pay massive financial penalties to the IRS.
The order also protects more than 400 other Catholic organizations that get benefits from the same Catholic benefits provider, Christian Brothers.
“We are delighted that the Supreme Court has issued this order protecting the Little Sisters,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund, which is working on this case and dozens more over the same or related issues.
“The government has lots of ways to deliver contraceptives to people – it doesn’t need to force nuns to participate,” he said.
The original order was issued by Sotomayor, and the order on Friday came from the entire court.
Prior to the order, injunctions had been awarded in 18 of the 19 similar cases in which relief had been requested.
“Virtually every other party who asked for protection from the mandate has been given it,” said Rienzi. “It made no sense for the Little Sisters to be singled out for fines and punishment before they could even finish their suit.”
The Little Sisters are joined in the lawsuit by religious health benefit providers, Christian Brothers Services, Christian Brothers Employee Benefits Trust. The lawsuit is a class action on behalf of all the non-exempt organizations that receive benefits through Christian Brothers. The plaintiffs are also represented by Locke Lord, a national law firm, and by Kevin Walsh, a law professor at the University of Richmond.
The Becket Fund explained so far, there are 91 lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate as unconstitutional. The Becket Fund represents: Hobby Lobby, Little Sisters of the Poor, GuideStone, Wheaton College, East Texas Baptist University, Houston Baptist University, Colorado Christian University, the Eternal Word Television Network, Ave Maria University and Belmont Abbey College.
WND earlier reported on the statement, through a video, from the nuns:
An attorney for Becket, Adele Keim, told WND that the Sisters don't qualify for an automatic "religious exemption" under Obamacare's relatively restrictive definitions, so they must apply for it.
Founded in 1839 by St. Jeanne Jugan, the order runs homes in 31 countries. The members standing before the court are part of a centuries-old faith tradition in which they "seek to obey God with their whole lives," Keim said.
"The way I look at it, it's the government trying to bully an order of nuns into signing a permission slip for drugs and devices," Keim said. "They cannot through their health plan be used as a vehicle or conduit [for that]."
The case is baffling, because the government has many other ways to hand out contraceptives, if that was the objective, she noted.
She said the Obama administration already pays $300 million a year for such services, aside from the Obamacare mandates.
"This is not about access … this is not about whether they're legal. … This is about whether an order of nuns who have dedicated their lives to following God must be forced to participate [in distributing abortifacients]."