Supreme Court Hears Little Sisters of the Poor


Little Sisters I

Little Sisters II

Little Sisters III


The Little Sisters of the Poor have finally had their day in court. Yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) heard oral arguments for the first time in the landmark case of Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell.

This lawsuit was filed on September 24, 2013 in response to the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) decision to force all employers to provide contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization procedures to all employees as a requirement in all ObamaCare-compliant insurance policies. This provision of the law was not passed by Congress but rather determined by former-HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as authorized under the law.

This decision by Sebelius has been vigorously opposed by Catholic and other religious institutions. The Obama administration has given numerous exemptions to this provision to churches and church-controlled ministries, but refuses to grant such exemptions to religious-affiliated not-for-profit companies.

The Little Sisters of the Poor is a not-for-profit Catholic-affiliated organization of nuns who provide services to the elderly poor and disabled in 27 homes throughout the United States. The government has threatened fines of $100/employee/day or over $70 million per year. This would likely bankrupt this institution and force them to stop serving these needy people.

The Supreme Court has already ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, a for-profit corporation whose owners argued compliance would violate their religious freedoms. Yet the Obama administration continues to demand compliance from the not-for-profit companies who refuse to comply on the same religious grounds.

The government has doggedly pursued this issue in the courts, despite losing at several judicial levels. According to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the Little Sisters, there are 20 federal appellate judges who have signed opinions arguing the government has no right to tell the Little Sisters what is and is not against their religious beliefs.

The “Accomodation”

The Obama administration responded to the objections of organizations like The Little Sisters with the so-called “accommodation.” Instead of directly authorizing the provision of contraceptives and abortifacients, the Little Sisters could sign a form that then authorized a third party to provide the offending services.

But The Little Sisters rightly objected that this would not solve the moral dilemma of being a party to providing these services. Several other attempts at accommodation always come back to the same moral dilemma – if it takes the cooperation of the Little Sisters to provide the objectionable services then they must refuse that cooperation.

Important Facts

The Becket Fund website gives important facts you should know to understand this case:

  • 1 in 3 Americans do not have a plan with these same contraceptives/abortifacients.
  • Exxon, Chevron, Pepsi and other corporations have received exemptions through grandfather clauses.
  • The U.S. military is exempt from these same provisions
  • This decision will not affect the Affordable Care Act
  • The government says they have offered an “opt out” but it is really an “opt in.”
  • The government says it will reimburse the costs – but this is not about money.
  • Giving all women access to contraceptives through the healthcare exchange accommodates the needs of women without violating the religious liberty of The Little Sisters or anyone else who objects to these services.


The decision of SCOTUS will affect not only The Little Sisters of the Poor but many other religious-affiliated institutions such as East Texas Baptist University, Houston Baptist University, Priests For Life, Archbishop of Washington, Zubik, Geneva College, and Southern Nazarene. All these cases are being represented by The Becket Fund.

All Americans who value their religious liberty, from any faith, should be in prayer that SCOTUS will defend that liberty and grant The Little Sisters their freedom. This will be the biggest test of the court since the passing of conservative justice Antonin Scalia. We can only pray his surviving justices will honor him by voting in a manner consistent with his legacy of defending religious liberty.

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