GLEN COVE, NY —The Obama administration is threatening the continued existence of the Little Sisters of the Poor in the United States, a congregation of women religious who take simple perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and hospitality. Ordinarily, they wear black habits with gray veils; for certain work and in certain places (for example, in hospitals and in the tropics), they wear white habits and white veils. They lead lives of contemplation, prayer, and especially tireless and loving care of the elderly poor in the nursing homes and residences they operate. Worldwide, they operate over 300 of these homes; and 30 of these are in the United States.
Although each home has a chapel around which the life of the home is centered, the Obama administration treats these homes differently from churches. Moreover, because the Sisters do not have a rule against employing lay non-Catholics in their work, the Obama administration insists that they are not eligible for conscientious objection status to any provisions of the Affordable Healthcare Act. In particular, the Obama administration insists that the Sisters provide insurance for contraception, sterilization, and abortion (or at least abortion- inducing pills) to their employees.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is assisting the Sisters in a lawsuit to invalidate the requirements imposed by Obama. This is one of many such suits, most of which will probably be decided together. The case will almost certainly reach the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has usually respected the right of people to refuse to perform affirmative acts that violate their conscience. For example, the Court has vindicated the right of certain religions to refuse to send their children to high school, and the right of certain children to refuse to pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States. Similarly, it has broadly interpreted laws providing conscientious objection status to those conscientiously opposed to military service
..the Obama administration insists that [the Little Sisters of the Poor] provide insurance for contraception, sterilization, and abortion (or at least abortion- inducing pills) to their employees.
The Court, however, has not recognized a right to violate generally applicable laws in an affirmative manner, such as the laws against polygamy and the use of peyote.
Unfortunately, virtually all of the law school professors who commented on the peyote case made confused arguments that this case would open the door to restrictions on religious liberty. It is not, therefore, clear that the Supreme Court will recognize the rights of the Sisters, despite the weight of precedent in their favor.
Congress, of course, might be able to end this injustice, quickly, by passing a broad conscientious objection exception to Obamacare, but Obama might well veto it.
If the Little Sisters lose, they will probably simply stop all operations in America. Several thousand elderly poor people will lose the many benefits of the Little Sisters' ministry.
Several hundred American Little Sisters will be, in effect, exiled for the rest of their lives. Some of them are so old they will probably have great difficulty ministering to old people who cannot speak English. Even if this does not happen, many who expected to spend the rest of their life ministering to the elderly poor within a thousand or so miles of their own homes may find themselves in Britain or Africa.
There is something truly perverse about a government that is so dedicated to killing unborn babies that it would perpetrate this kind of injustice on thousands of elderly impoverished people and hundreds of women who have dedicated their lives to poverty, chastity, obedience, and hospitality.
The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2013
by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com.
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Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the
New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in
many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles
about the law.
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.
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