Little Sisters of the Poor Appeal to the Supreme Court

Forced to choose faith or massive fines, nuns seek relief 

For Immediate Release: July 23, 2015
Media Contact: Stephanie Keenan, skeenan@becketfund.org, 202-349-7226

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, for the second time in two years, the Little Sisters of the Poor must ask the Supreme Court to protect them from the government. The order of Catholic nuns and other non-profits have been forced to ask the Court for relief due to the government’s refusal to exempt them from a regulation that makes them choose between their faith—which prohibits them from providing contraceptives—and continuing to pursue their religious mission of serving the elderly poor (see video).

“The government has lost every single time they have made these arguments before the Supreme Court—including last year’s landmark Hobby Lobby case. One would think they would get the message and stop pressuring the Sisters,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead attorney for the Little Sisters of the Poor. “The government is willing to exempt big companies like Exxon, Chevron, and Pepsi Bottling, but it won’t leave the Little Sisters alone.”

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and leading Supreme Court advocate Paul Clement—the same legal team that won Hobby Lobby—filed the petition on behalf of the Little Sisters as well as the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, Christian Brothers Services, Reaching Souls International, Truett-McConnell College, and GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. They are seeking relief from a 100-page decision by the Tenth Circuit that disagrees with the ministries’ understanding of moral theology. Today’s petition is the fifth the Court has received and makes it likely the Court will decide in the upcoming term whether religious ministries, like religious for-profits, will receive protection from the Mandate.

“The Sisters consider it immoral to help the government distribute these drugs. But instead of simply exempting them, the government insists that it can take over their ministry’s employee healthcare to distribute these drugs to their employees, while dismissing the Sisters’ moral objections as irrelevant,” said Rienzi. “In America, judges and government bureaucrats have no authority to tell the Little Sisters what is moral or immoral. And the government can distribute its drugs without nuns—it has its own healthcare exchanges that can provide whatever it wants.”

“As Little Sisters of the Poor we dedicate our lives to serving the neediest in society, with love and dignity. We perform this loving ministry because of our faith and simply cannot choose between our care for the elderly poor and our faith, and we shouldn’t have to,” said Sr. Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial of the Little Sisters of the Poor. “We hope the Supreme Court will hear our case and ensure that people from diverse faiths can freely follow God’s calling in their lives.”

Reaching Souls International is an evangelical Christian ministry dedicated to preaching the gospel and caring for orphans in Africa, Cuba and India. Truett-McConnell College is a Baptist college that trains students to share their faith worldwide. Christian Brothers Services, Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, and GuideStone Financial Resources are the ministries that provide healthcare coverage for the Little Sisters, Reaching Souls, and Truett-McConnell. All of the ministries are also represented by Locke Lord LLP, the 2014 recipient of Becket’s legal service award. Kevin Walsh, a law professor at the University of Richmond Law School, also represents the Little Sisters of the Poor.

The Court is likely to consider all of the petitions in late September or early October. If the petition is granted, the case would be argued and decided before the end of the Court’s term in June 2016.

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket Fund attorney, please contact Stephanie Keenan at skeenan@becketfund.org or 202.349.7226.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. For over 20 years, it has defended clients of all faiths, includingBuddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians. Its recent cases include three major Supreme Court victories: the landmark ruling inBurwell v. Hobby Lobby, and the 9-0 rulings inHolt v. HobbsandHosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, the latter of which The Wall Street Journal called one of “the most important religious liberty cases in a half century.

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