Frequently Asked Questions: Little Sisters of the Poor

  • Where was the lawsuit filed, and what is its status now? 
  • How much are the fines if the Little Sisters do not comply? 
  • But what about the Hobby Lobby decision—didn’t that ruling protect ministries already? 
  • Isn’tthere a “religious employer exemption” that would cover the Little Sisters?

Where was the lawsuit filed, and what is its status now? 

The lawsuit was filed in the federal district court in Denver, Colorado on September 24, 2013. The court ruled against the Little Sisters and refused to give them temporary relief from the mandate, which meant they would face the prospect of up to $70 million in government fines per year unless they provided services contrary to Catholic teachings. This forced the Little Sisters to ask the Supreme Court for temporary relief while the case is ongoing. Justice Sotomayor granted the Little Sisters relief on December 31, 2013. The Tenth Circuit Court once again ruled against the Little Sisters in July 2015. The Little Sisters filed a petition to the Supreme Court and their case was granted on Nov. 6, 2015, and consolidated with 6 other non-profit religious ministries cases (view complete list). The Little Sisters case will be heard March 23, 2016.

How much are the fines if the Little Sisters do not comply? 

The Little Sisters have 27 homes in the United States. The government is threatening fines against the Sisters of about $100 per employee per day. In total, the Little Sisters could be forced to pay $70 million in fines per year, which is roughly one-third of their operating budget. These fines are severe and would needlessly take money that should be spent on the Little Sisters ministry of caring for the elderly poor.

But what about the Hobby Lobby decision—didn’t that ruling protect ministries already? 

The Hobby Lobby decision should have resolved this issue. However, some courts have ruled against ministries like the Little Sisters because they say that the government’s rules for non-profits work differently than for-profit organizations. Such judges argue that religious non-profit groups like the Little Sisters should not feel complicit when they are forced to change their healthcare plans to provide services such as ella, the week after pill. However, it is up to the Little Sisters, not the government, to determine whether such actions are a violation of their faith.  Indeed, 20 federal appellate judges have signed opinions agreeing the government has no right to tell the Little Sisters what is and is not against their religious beliefs. The Little Sisters’ faith prohibits them from giving into the government’s demands. The Little Sisters cannot in good conscience authorize their health plans to provide services. It makes no sense for the government to make the Little Sisters provide those services since they can be easily obtained through the government’s own exchanges.

Isn’t there a “religious employer exemption” that would cover the Little Sisters? 

No. The government says The Little Sisters are not religious enough to be exempt, and insists that the mandate exemption apply only to churches and church-controlled ministries. Absurdly, the government has admitted it is simply guessing about whether the Little Sisters’ homes are more or less religious than other organizations. And even the religious exemptions are narrow compared to the grandfathered exemptions for large corporations such as Exxon, Visa, large municipalities like the City of New York and even the government’s own military healthcare, Tricare for convenience or financial reasons. All told, one-third of Americans don’t have plans subject to the government’s mandate.