Editor Emeritus - Ed Wilkinson

Little Sisters Deserve Pro Vita Recognition

I was happy to see the Little Sisters of the Poor receive the Diocese’s Pro Vita Award last weekend (see story). The Little Sisters have been the face of the Church’s struggle for religious freedom while going about its daily business. So, it was great to see them recognized for the work they do with the elderly, particularly at Queen of Peace Residence in Queens Village.

Their plea not to be included in the healthcare mandate put in motion by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been the subject of a court battle that will come to a head before the Supreme Court on March 23.

Basically, the Little Sisters do not want to pay for abortifacient-type birth control methods in the health care plans that they offer to their employees. Because of their religious beliefs, they applied for a religious exemption but were told they are not religious enough to qualify.

The government argues that exempting the Little Sisters and letting the nuns’ employees get contraceptives through other means would pose a serious threat to the government’s goal of providing universal free access to contraception and early-term pharmaceutical abortion, thus harming the “harmonious functioning of a society like ours.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor, through their attorneys at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, have countered by explaining that the government could better meet its goals if it provided services through the healthcare exchanges for everyone instead of trying to force religious plans to offer these services that violate their beliefs.

Such a proposal would protect both the Little Sisters of the Poor’s religious freedom and the government’s goal to provide free access to these services to women who want them.

Some things you should know about this case:

  • One-third of all Americans are not even covered by the mandate that the government is trying to force on the Little Sisters.
  • Some big corporations, such as Exxon, Chevron, Pepsi and the U.S. Military’s family plans already are exempt from the mandate.
  • The government is threatening the Sisters with $70 million in fines if they do not comply.

The Sisters have widespread support from other religious denominations and the case before the court – known as Zubik v. Burwell – also includes several other ministries. Recently, EWTN, the national Catholic television network founded by Mother Angelica, was told by an appeals court to comply with the mandate or face massive fines.

The solution is as simple as recognizing that the Little Sisters have a moral objection to being included in the mandate and for the government to provide the objectionable services through the ACA’s healthcare exchanges. It could be done but the state has chosen instead to make an example of religious institutions that cannot comply because of conscience issues and force them under the thumb of big government regulations.

Any issue before the Supreme Court these days is up for grabs because the death of Justice Antonin Scalia has left the possibility of four-to-four decision. Such a deadlock would revert the case back to prior decision in an Appeals Court that ruled against the Sisters.

A demonstration outside the court while arguments are going on is planned for March 23. A decision can be expected in late spring when the court completes all its current calendar.

We can only hope that sane legal minds will prevail and that the court will continue to protect the religious freedom that is ensured us by the U.S. Constitution.