by Joe Carter
Once again, the Little Sisters of the Poor are having to go to court to defend their religious freedoms against government intrusion.
The Little Sisters is an international Roman Catholic Congregation of Religious Sisters that serves more than 13,000 elderly poor in 31 countries around the world. The first home opened in America in 1868, and now there are nearly 30 homes in the United States where the elderly and dying are cared for. A few years ago, the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) attempted to force the Little Sisters and other groups groups into providing insurance coverage for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacients. The Little Sisters objected on the ground that the requirement violates their religious liberty as protected by the First Amendment and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
In early October, HHS issued a new rule that protects religious non-profits like the Little Sisters, ending their four-year legal ordeal. But shortly after, according to Becket Law, the state of Pennsylvania sued to take away the Little Sisters’ religious exemption. Represented by Becket, the Little Sisters went back to court to ensure that they can continue their vital ministry of caring for the elderly poor without violating their faith.
Today, the Little Sisters won the right to defend themselves against this new lawsuit by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. The lawsuit, which would take away the nuns’ religious exemption from the HHS rule, would mean they once again face the dilemma of providing services like abortifacients in their health plan against their faith or pay millions in government fines. The Little Sisters asked a lower court to let them defend themselves against the lawsuit, but in December the court kept them out of the case after objections from AG Shapiro. Earlier today, an appeals court overruled that decision and said the Little Sisters should be allowed to defend their rights.
“Women like the Little Sisters of the Poor do not need bureaucrats trying to push them around,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket. “The appeals court got it right—the Little Sisters should be allowed their day in court to argue for their rights. It is shameful that Josh Shapiro tried to deprive the Sisters of their right to defend themselves.”
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Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator (Crossway).