Issue of Religious Liberty Reaches Supreme Court Once Again

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, Monday, March 7, 2011. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
AP/J. Scott Applewhite

A diverse group of people and organizations representing a wide array of religious beliefs will argue their case before the Supreme Court Wednesday that the government has no role in instructing them about the tenets of their faiths.

The 140 individuals and groups — including the Little Sisters of the Poor, Priests for Life, Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C., 37 universities, and 40 charities – have brought more than 50 lawsuits against the Obama administration’s HHS contraceptive mandate, which requires most employers to provide free contraception, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization procedures to their employees through health insurance plans.

Though the Obama administration has exempted some 100 million Americans from the HHS mandate – including companies such as Pepsi, Chevron, and Exxon, the entire city of New York, and the U.S. military – the same administration insists that those who are defending their faith must be coerced into complying with the mandate or pay millions of dollars in punitive fines.

“And if you think that “coerced” is too strong a word, consider that a religious non-profit group that does not obey the HHS mandate will be fined $100 per employee per day until it does,” writes national director of Priests for Life, Father Frank Pavone. “That’s an existential threat to a lot of organizations that are a big part of the social safety net.”

Planned Parenthood tweeted “Hands off my birth control” against the people of faith who are presenting their arguments to the Supreme Court:

Members of Congress gathered for a press conference to highlight the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor (Zubik v. Burwell). Rep. Trent Franks, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Rep. Diane Black, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, Rep. Virginia Foxx, Rep. Vicky Hartzler, Rep. Mike Kelly, Rep. Joe Pitts, and Rep. Jody Hice voiced their support for those fighting for religious liberty.

Black led more than 200 Members of Congress in submitting a bipartisan amicus brief on the Little Sisters’ behalf.

“President Obama famously called his healthcare law, ‘A new set of rules that treat everyone fairly and honestly,’” Black said. “We see very clearly today that nothing could be further from the truth.”

She continued:

Under Obamacare’s coercive HHS mandate, the Little Sisters of the Poor face an impossible choice: either deny their deeply held beliefs and provide coverage for drugs they deem to be morally objectionable, or face up to $70 million in government penalties.

Meanwhile, corporations like Exxon and Pepsi are exempted from the mandate altogether. Only in Washington would anyone call this “fair.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor never wanted to be at the center of a political fight. They simply wanted to continue providing care for the most vulnerable in our society as they have done for more than 175 years in a way that is consistent with their faith. If we won’t protect that fundamental right, then the Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom is no longer worth the paper it is printed on.

Black said she will be attending oral arguments at the Supreme Court.

Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor with The Catholic Association, calls the Obama administration’s argument in the HHS mandate case “remarkable.”

“The Obama administration will make a remarkable argument in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, shattering concepts of  ‘separation of church and state’ and the free exercise of religion, by making the case that the government has the power to make theological judgments about the Catholic faith of nuns who serve the elderly poor,” Ferguson tells Breitbart News.

She added the Obama administration’s argument that making the Little Sisters responsible for over $70 million in fines for following the tenets of their faith is “absurd,” since this approach hardly meets the “‘least restrictive means’ test, when the government has already exempted one-third of all Americans, including big corporations like Exxon and Pepsi.”

Dr. Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and director of Civil Rights for the Unborn—Priests for Life’s African American outreach program—said the lawsuit she and Priests for Life are bringing before the Supreme Court this week brings to mind the civil rights battles of the 1950s and 60s.

King said in a statement:

When I was growing up, the government denied my basic civil rights because of the color of my skin. Today, the government is trying to deny my God-given right to practice my faith for reasons that also make no sense. The oral arguments to be held before the Supreme Court this Wednesday in the case that Priests for Life, I, and many others are bringing against the HHS mandate is really a continuation of the Civil Rights movement I knew as a child.

King said the case before the high court is about the basic rights of all Americans.

“If bureaucrats are allowed to dictate what we must believe, we are not free,” she continued. “And make no mistake, the HHS mandate is not a rule passed or even envisioned by Congress, it’s a regulation drawn up by unelected, unrepresentative people who think that their agenda is more important than our freedom.”

“The government was wrong in the 1950s and 60s – it’s wrong again today,” King asserted.

Speaker Paul Ryan also took to the floor of the House in support of the Little Sisters. He said:

Mr. Speaker, this is an order of Catholic nuns who serve the elderly poor in 31 countries. We talk a lot about public service up here. Well, these are the people who live it. They are the definition of public service.

In fact, I had the honor of hosting two of the sisters at the State of the Union Address this January. And I was amazed to hear of all the good work that they do. So the last thing the federal government should do is make their jobs harder. But that, unfortunately, is exactly what this administration is doing.

Under the health-care law, the Department of Health and Human Services is insisting on a regulation that requires the sisters to offer benefits that violate their religious beliefs. The administration claims to have offered them an ‘accommodation.’ But it is just a fig leaf. So this is the choice that they are facing: Either violate your faith or pay up to $70 million a year in fines.

Ryan added, “It is clear to anyone with eyes to see that this regulation is a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

“A broad, bipartisan majority in Congress voted for that law,” he continued. “And what Congress said was this: The burden is not on your faith to obey government mandates. The burden is on the government to respect your faith.”

Last September, in a highly unusual move, five federal judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit issued an opinion criticizing their court panel’s refusal to change its decision to force the Little Sisters into providing free birth control and abortifacients to employees.

“The opinion of the panel majority is clearly and gravely wrong–on an issue that has little to do with contraception and a great deal to do with religious liberty,” the opinion reads. “When a law demands that a person do something the person considers sinful, and the penalty for refusal is a large financial penalty, then the law imposes a substantial burden on that person’s free exercise of religion.”

The judges added, “[I]t is not the job of the judiciary to tell people what their religious beliefs are.”


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