Frequently Asked Questions: Little Sisters of the Poor

  • What is the Little Sisters of the Poor lawsuit about?
  • What are the Little Sisters of the Poor asking the court for?
  • Where was the lawsuit filed, and what is its status now? 
  • But what about the Hobby Lobby decision—didn’t that ruling protect ministries already? 
  • How much are the fines if the Little Sisters do not comply? 
  • What happens if the Little Sisters have to pay the fines?
  • Isn’t there a “religious employer exemption” that would cover the Little Sisters?
  • Didn’t the government create some kind of an “accommodation” for religious non-profits?

    What is the Little Sisters of the Poor lawsuit about?

    The Little Sisters of the Poor value the inherent dignity of every person no matter how weak or unwanted. According to their religious vows, they take care of the elderly poor and follow the teachings of the Catholic Church.

    The government, through the HHS Mandate, is trying to force the Sisters to engage in a system that would use their heath care plan to provide their employees with contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs and devices. The government is threatening them with massive fines if they do not comply.

    They believe participating in this system violates their religious beliefs. This is why The Little Sisters and many other religious institutions are at the Supreme Court fighting for their right to continue their ministry without violating their faith.

    What are the Little Sisters of the Poor asking the court for?

    They are simply asking to continue their ministry like they always have. They want to care for the elderly poor while providing health insurance to their employees that does not include abortion-inducing drugs and contraceptives.  The Little Sisters simply want the government to let them continue their ministry without being forced to violate their faith or pay massive fines.

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

    The lawsuit was filed in the federal district court in Denver, Colorado in 2013. The court ruled against them and refused to give them temporary relief from the mandate. The Tenth Circuit ruled against them twice. The first time they refused to give temporary relief and The Sisters had to scramble and ask the Supreme Court for temporary relief, which was granted. The second time the court permanently ruled against them.

    The Little Sisters filed a petition to the Supreme Court and their case was granted on Nov. 6, 2015, along with 6 other cases brought by other non-profit religious ministries. Right now they are waiting for the Court to hear their case and decide the issue.

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

    The Hobby Lobby decision should have resolved this issue. However, the courts have been ruling against The Little Sisters because they say that they work differently than for-profit organizations.

    Some judges say that religious groups like The Little Sisters should no longer feel complicit when they provide a health plan that can be used to provide these drugs and devices. But it is up to the Little Sisters, and not the government, to determine whether this act is a violation of their faith.  And 19 federal appellate judges have now signed opinions agreeing with them on that point. The Little Sisters’ faith prohibits them from giving into the government’s demands. They cannot, in good conscience, sign over their health plan so that it can give out contraceptives.

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

    It varies from home to home. Some fines are about $2,000 per employee per year; others are about $100 per employee per day. The bottom line is that they are severe and would needlessly take money that should be spent on their ministry of caring for the elderly poor.

    What happens if the Little Sisters have to pay the fines? They currently have temporary protection by the Supreme Court and are now fighting for the Supreme Court to give them permanent protection. They prayerfully hope that they don’t have to face the day the government forces them to violate their faith or pay massive fines. Two things they know for certain: they will never abandon their devotion to Christ or the elderly poor they serve.

    Isn’t there a “religious employer exemption” that would cover the Little Sisters? No. The exemption only applies to churches and church-affiliated ministries. The government says The Little Sisters are not religious enough to be exempt from this scheme. Absurdly, the government has admitted it is simply guessing about whether the Little Sisters’ homes are more or less religious than other organizations. The  government should not be allowed to discriminate against religious ministries based on guesses. The government is factually wrong and the Little Sisters are just as religious as the ministries that it fully exempts.

    Didn’t the government create some kind of an “accommodation” for religious non-profits? The “accommodation” is a fake. It treats the Little Sisters like second-class citizens and forces them to participate in providing access to objectionable drugs and devices.

    The ones that are exempt are churches, church-affiliated organization, and big business like Pepsi and Exxon. These organizations don’t have to sign a form or engage the government at all. They are exempt from doing anything. And their health plans do not get taken over to provide these drugs at all. The government’s discriminatory treatment is truly unfair. Religious liberty should receive the same consideration as a business’s bottom line. The Little Sisters should receive the same exemption as churches and other ministries do.

    If the Little Sisters comply with the government’s demands, that will change their health care plan and allow it to dispense objectionable drugs and devices to their employees–that is precisely why the government insists on the Little Sisters’ involvement.  In good conscience and following the principles of their faith, they simply can’t help the government’s goal of distributing these products.