A brief filed with the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in a case brought by Catholic nuns against the government’s Obamacare rules and regulations asserts the White House can’t tell the religious-order members what to believe.
The case challenges the abortifacient mandate in Obamacare, which requires employers to provide employees with abortion-inducing drugs. The nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, who run homes for the elderly in Denver and in other locations, are not included in the religious employer exemption created by the government.
The brief explains that a loophole for organizations such as the Little Sisters that would have the abortifacients distributed by a third party on their behalf is inadequate.
Their faith prohibits them “from participating in the government’s program to distribute, subsidize, and promote the use of contraceptives, sterilization, or abortion-inducing drugs and devices.”
The government has persistently demanded that the Little Sisters “give up” their faith, the brief charges.
“The government has fought all the way to the Supreme Court, and continues to fight in this court, to force the Little Sisters to execute and deliver its mandatory contraceptive coverage form. … If the Little Sisters refuse, the government promises to impose severe financial penalties,” the brief notes.
The district court that ordered the Little Sisters to sign a form authorizing a third-party promotion of abortifacients, “essentially re-writes the Little Sisters’ religious beliefs for them.”
“Standard moral reasoning underpins the Little Sisters’ refusal to designate, authorize, incentivize, and obligate a third party to do that which the Little Sisters may not do directly,” the brief states.
“And regardless of what the trial court and the government think the Little Sisters should believe, the undisputed fact is that they do believe their religion forbids them from signing EBSA Form 700. It was not for the district court to disagree with the line drawn by the Little Sisters.”
The brief cites a previous case in the 10th Circuit in which the judges determined, on another issue of faith, “Even if others of the same faith may consider the exercise at issue unnecessary or less valuable than the claimant, even if some may find it illogical, that doesn’t take it outside the law’s protection.
“The government has also violated the appellants’ rights under the Religion Clauses and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. As to the former, the government is unconstitutionally discriminating among religious organizations. As to the latter, the government is unconstitutionally compelling the Little Sisters both to say things that they do not want to say and not to say things that they do want to say. The First Amendment does not permit any of these violations.”
The government’s power to compel people to violate their religious beliefs is demonstrated by the penalties of millions of dollars a year for failure to submit, the brief says.
The appeals court is being asked to enter an injunction against the government for the time that the case works its way through the court system.
The Supreme Court previously stepped in and granted an injunction protecting the nuns from the anti-religious requirements of Obamacare while the presentation to the 10th Circuit was assembled.
“Only the Supreme Court’s extraordinary grant of injunctive relief pending appeal has thus far spared the Little Sisters from having to decide whether to violate their religion or to incur massive federal finds that could cripple their ministry,” the appeal notes.
“Regardless of whether the government sincerely believes EBSA Form 700 is morally meaningful, the relevant legal question is whether the Little Sisters do. And on that point, there is no dispute: the Little Sisters cannot execute and deliver the contraceptive coverage form without violating their religious conscience.
“The government may think the Little Sisters should reason differently about law and morality, but their actual religious beliefs – the beliefs that matter in this case – have led them to conclude that they cannot sign or send the government’s form.”
“We are thrilled the Supreme Court temporarily protected the Little Sisters from having to violate their conscience or pay crippling IRS fines. We are hopeful the 10th Circuit will give them more lasting protection,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead counsel for Little Sisters of the Poor.
“The federal government is a massive entity that has lots of ways to deliver contraceptives to people – it doesn’t need to force the Little Sisters to participate.”
The Little Sisters are joined in the lawsuit by their religious health benefit providers, Christian Brothers Services and Christian Brothers Employee Benefits Trust, and hundreds of similar Catholic ministries that obtain their health benefits from the same providers.
So far, there are nearly 100 lawsuits challenging the mandate. 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.
Members of the order are not making public statements on their legal case. 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.”
WND reported on the nun’s video statement:
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]."