“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” – Matthew 5:5
In a stunning replay of David and Goliath, where a small shepherd boy slayed the giant Philistine warrior, The Little Sisters of the Poor have slain the giant Obama administration.
The Little Sisters of the Poor is a non-profit organization of Catholic nuns that minister to the poor and elderly. When mandated by ObamaCare to provide contraceptives and abortifacients to all of their employees, they refused on the grounds that this would violate their religious convictions. When the government offered them an “accommodation” that still required their cooperation in providing these objectionable treatments, they filed their lawsuit seeking an exemption.
Many thought the war was over when the Supreme Court found in favor of Hobby Lobby in their lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s insistence that they provide contraceptives and abortifacients to their employees in violation of their firmly held religious beliefs. The Court declared the government had overstepped its authority and violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). This decision would pertain to all for-profit closely-held corporations.
Despite losing in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, the Obama administration was not to be deterred from its stubborn attack on our religious freedom. They insisted upon pursuing the same issue in the non-profit arena when they continued their challenge of Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell.
The Supreme Court Decision
The Supreme Court now announced it is sending the case back to the lower courts with instructions to work out a better compromise that satisfied all parties. To be sure, the court did not rule on the merits, but the decision is nevertheless a big victory for The Little Sisters and for all religious freedom proponents.
This unanimous decision of the court assures that religious freedom will survive – at least for now. But changes in the make-up of the court in the future may alter this delicate balance.
William McGurn, writing in The Wall Street Journal, says the most important result of this decision is that the court took away the administration’s tool for bullying. The court declared the government “may not impose taxes or penalties” on those who refuse to authorize their plans to provide the contested coverage of abortifacients and contraceptives. Those fines would have been about $70 million per year for The Little Sisters of the Poor.
As a result of this SCOTUS decision, the government will have to come up with a better alternative that frees the plaintiffs from violating their religious convictions. Previous alternatives proposed by the Obama administration still required the cooperation of the plaintiffs. The government wants to be sure all their female employees can receive contraceptives and abortifacients at no cost.
According to The Becket Fund For Religious Liberty, which represents The Little Sisters, over one hundred million Americans have been granted exemption from this mandate including large corporations like Exxon, Visa, and the government’s own military family insurance coverage.
The obvious solution is for the government to pay directly for the cost of these objectionable treatments without any necessary cooperation by the plaintiffs that would make them morally complicit. It is unconscionable that the Obama administration continues to object to this exemption despite the fact that they have already granted exemptions to numerous other organizations including all churches and many corporations.
The final resolution of this conflict will force the Obama administration into a new accommodation, one that will determine if they want to double-down on their progressive instincts that show contempt for religious liberty or if they are willing to abide by America’s tradition of religious pluralism. Hopefully this smack-down by the Supreme Court will force them to accept the latter.