Last week, in a 7-2 decision the United States Supreme Court upheld the right of the Little Sisters of the Poor to avoid paying for contraceptives and abortifacients for their employees.
The Little Sisters in America are 300 women running 27 homes for indigent elderly.
The US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled just four years ago that the nuns would not have to pay a $70 million fine for refusing to obey the Obamacare mandates on birth control and abortion–even though corporate giants like Exxon and Visa and others are exempt from the regulations.
Despite the Supreme Court having already upheld their freedom of conscience, Josh Shapiro, Attorney General of Pennsylvania followed along after Xavier Becerra, California’s AG, sued to force the nuns to provide contraceptives– those preventing conception and those abortive in nature. These men sued in an attempt to get the court to say states can force the nuns to do what the federal government cannot force them to do.
The nuns have spent nearly a decade in court.
Life Site News reports that “[Justice Clarence] Thomas wrote in his majority opinion[,] ‘We hold that the [federal government’s] Departments had the authority to provide exemptions from the regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections.'”
But having the authority to exempt the nuns isn’t the same as having an obligation to exempt them. It leaves the question hanging like a door swinging in the wind with the change of administrations.
Lifesite points out that two justices made the argument for an obligation on the government’s part:
“In a concurring opinion, Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch went a step further and argued that not only were the Departments allowed to exempt the Little Sisters, but the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) actually ‘compels an exemption for the Little Sisters and any other employer with a similar objection to what has been called the accommodation to the contraceptive mandate.'” (emphasis mine)
That view is commendable (and constitutional) and shows why SCOTUS appointments are crucial. If the winds of a new administration blow in a different direction, we will see new appointments and the door will swing again in the direction of oppression over freedom of conscience.
“While ultimately voting with the majority, [Justice Elena] Kagan explained in a concurring opinion that while she believed the relevant departments did have ‘statutory authority to exempt certain employers from the mandate,’ she also believes the accommodation made for the Little Sisters was broad enough that it could still be invalidated under the federal Administrative Procedure Act. So while the ruling is a major victory the Little Sisters and other opponents of compulsory birth control coverage, Kagan’s opinion also provides ammo to a potential future challenge.”
Sadly, we can expect to see the sisters in court yet again.
And last week’s decision affects more than a small sect of nuns, their employees, and their homes’ residents. These cases mark, not a turning point, but another stepping stone on our nation’s pathway (perhaps a circular one) between freedom and religious suppression.
Abolitionist Wendell Phillips said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. . . . The manna of popular liberty must be gathered each day or it is rotten,”
Gather fresh manna daily. Be vigilant.
And in this season of turmoil and uncertainty, be especially vigilant in prayer.