Pope Francis had an unscheduled meeting with the Little Sisters of the Poor, a community of nuns who have been engaged in a major legal battle against the Obama administration’s HHS contraception mandate.
Father Federico Lombardi tells reporters that the Pope met with the religious sisters as “a sign of support” for them in their lawsuit against the Obama administration.
As Breitbart News reported in July, a federal appeals court ruled that the Little Sisters, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, must comply with the HHS mandate that requires their health insurance carriers to subsidize contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization procedures for their employees. Failure to do so means the nuns would incur significant fines from the IRS.
Last week, however, another federal court ruled that the government cannot impose such onerous fines on religious groups for following the tenets of their faith. The ruling makes it more likely that the Supreme Court will take up such cases against the Obama administration.
The Becket Fund adds:
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeal’s opinion stated, “When the government imposes a direct monetary penalty to coerce conduct that violates religious belief, ‘[t]here has never been a question that the government ‘imposes a substantial burden on the exercise of religion.’”
Further, although the government argued that the ministries were being paranoid and that it was simply asking them for signatures on a piece of meaningless paper, the court both refused to second guess the ministries’ beliefs and saw through the government’s argument: “We need look no further than the government’s own litigation behavior to gauge the importance of [the government’s forms] in the regulatory scheme.” If it was just a meaningless form, “there would be no need to insist on [the ministries’] compliance with” the government’s demands.
As Aleteia reports, the meeting between Pope Francis and the Little Sisters occurred at a nearby convent hours after the Pope met with President Obama at the White House.
During the Pope’s meeting with Obama, the president said, “Here in the United States, we cherish religious liberty … we stand with you in defense of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, knowing that people everywhere must be able to live out their faith free from fear and free from intimidation.”