Mother Loraine Maguire, the Mother Provincial for the Little Sisters of the Poor who will appear before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, March 22, 2016, took to the pages of USA Today on Tuesday to lay out why our most sacred religious liberties must be upheld.
Obamacare attacks religious liberty: Little Sisters Mother Provincial
Government’s contraception ‘opt out’ form reads and acts more like a permission slip
By Loraine Maguire
When I first answered God’s call to join the Little Sisters of the Poor and vow myself to Him and to the care of the elderly, I never dreamed of the happiness I would experience in serving, living with and caring for the aging poor until God calls them to Himself. I also never thought one day, I would be walking up the white marble steps of the Supreme Court to attend a legal proceeding in which the high court will decide whether the government can force my order to help offer health care services that violate my Catholic faith and that are already available through existing government exchanges.
For the past two years, since the time we felt we had no choice but to engage in this legal process, I have been saddened to see some of the anger and misinformation generated about our case. One of the most misunderstood aspects has arisen from early statements made by the government about how all it was asking was that we sign a form saying we had a religious objection to its mandated services so it could provide these services independent of our health care plan.
This is untrue. The government already knows we object. In fact, this is not our first appeal for protection from the court. In December 2013, we first asked to be protected from the fines that would accrue against us unless we provided the objectionable services. At the time, Justice Sonia Sotomayor stopped the fines and the government received a letter from us stating our objection. Even before then, since the government announced it had put this regulation into effect, we registered our objection in writing, citing our concerns.
Why would the government need us to provide these services? Everyone knows the government can provide free services to anyone it wishes without our signing a form. It has always been clear to us that rather than being an “opt out,” the form is an opt-in. It gives the government permission to use our plan to deliver services such as ella, the week-after pill. The form even says our signature will legally alter our contract with our insurance provider.
One of the most puzzling aspects of the case is that the government, at the same time it has been trying to force us to sign this form and provide these services, has exempted close to 100 million Americans from having to comply with this mandate. It has exempted its own military family plan, its own insurance for the disabled as well as large private corporations such as Pepsi. All these exemptions were issued for convenience or commercial reasons, but when we have asked to be exempted for religious reasons, we have been denied the same privilege.
As I look around the home where I live in Baltimore, I see those who are truly affected by this unnecessary legal proceeding: the elderly poor. Most of the people who live in my residence have nowhere else to go. The 13,000 elderly we take care of around the world come to us in search of a home and of good medical care. They seek solace and companionship when they have none. And we gladly commit to live with them until they complete their earthly journey. We tell them that once they come to our home, we belong to them and they belong to us because we are family.
My heart is filled with grief at the worry and suffering this has caused our elderly residents. I tell them that whatever happens, God will take care of all of us as He has since the founding of our order 175 years ago. As I walk up the Supreme Court steps on this coming Holy Wednesday, I will be reflecting on the words our foundress, St. Jeanne Jugan: “God will help us: the work is His.” I will also be praying for our elderly residents. Finally, I will be praying that our laws continue to protect religious liberty, not only for my order but for all Americans.
Mother Loraine Maguire is the Mother Provincial for the Little Sisters of the Poor. The Little Sisters are represented in court by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
On March 22, 2016, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) spoke on the House floor in support of the Little Sisters of the Poor, the day before the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in their fight against the Affordable Care Act’s HHS mandate through which the U.S. Government is forcing them to violate their religious beliefs.
Below are Speaker Ryan’s full remarks as delivered:
“Tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell. And today, I stand in support of the Little Sisters.
“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.
“Mr. Speaker, there is no good reason for any of this. A full one third of the American people are exempt from this regulation. So why insist that the sisters—of all people—follow it? There are other ways to protect people’s health—that do not violate people’s faith.
“And Mr. Speaker, it is clear to anyone with eyes to see that this regulation is a violation of theReligious Freedom Restoration Act. A broad, bipartisan majority in Congress voted for that law. 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.
“Mr. Speaker, that is the very meaning of religious liberty. That is one of our founding principles. That is why we should do everything we can to let people live out their faith. That is why many colleagues of mine and I have joined an amicus brief asking the Court to grant the sisters the relief that they deserve.
“And that is why I am here today—to stand in defense of the sisters, to stand in defense of the law, and to stand in defense of religious liberty. Thank you.”
The Little Sister of the Poor were on Capitol Hill this morning meeting with Congressman Diane Black (R, TN-06) to discuss their ongoing fight against President Obama’s HHS mandate. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Little Sisters of the Poor legal challenge next year.
After the meeting Representative Black said:
“It is hard to imagine what could possibly be more pure or worthwhile than the ministry of Little Sisters of the Poor. For over 175 years, they have provided compassionate care to the most vulnerable among us. We should be praising their work, not punishing it. Sadly, that is exactly what Obamacare’s coercive HHS mandate will do. The law sets up an impossible choice for this ministry: deny their deeply held beliefs and provide coverage for drugs they deem to be morally objectionable, or face up to $70 million in annual penalties. I am honored to lend my voice and my prayers to the growing chorus calling on the Supreme Court to rectify this crisis and protect religious freedom from government attack when it hears this case next year. In the meantime, Congress should also do its part and finally pass my legislation, the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, which would provide full exemption from this oppressive mandate once and for all.”
Representatives of the Little Sisters of the Poor meeting with Rep. Diane Black (R, TN-06) author of the Health Care Conscience Rights Act.
Pope Francis & Religious Freedom Welcoming Ceremony South Lawn of the White House Washington, D.C. Wednesday, September 23, 2015
“American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination. With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”
Pope Francis Visit to the Joint Session of the United States Congress United States Capitol Washington, D.C. Thursday, September 24, 2015
“Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.”
“In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society.”
“In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom.”
Pope Francis Meeting with the Members of the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization United Nations Headquarters New York Friday, September 25, 2015
“[G]overnment leaders must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labour, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and all other civil rights.”
“[T]he simplest and best measure and indicator of the implementation of the new Agenda for development will be effective, practical and immediate access, on the part of all, to essential material and spiritual goods: housing, dignified and properly remunerated employment, adequate food and drinking water; religious freedom and, more generally, spiritual freedom and education.”
“[T]he most basic understanding of human dignity compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities’ and to protect innocent peoples.”
“I must renew my repeated appeals regarding […] the painful situation of the entire Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, where Christians, together with other cultural or ethnic groups, and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly, have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives, or by enslavement.”
Meeting for Religious Liberty with the Hispanic Community and Other Immigrants Independence Hall Philadelphia Saturday, September 26, 2015
“The Declaration of Independence stated that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that governments exist to protect and defend those rights.”
“When individuals and communities are guaranteed the effective exercise of their rights, they are not only free to realize their potential, they also, through their talents and their hard work, contribute to the welfare and enrichment of society as a whole.”
“It [religious freedom] is a fundamental right which shapes the way we interact socially and personally with our neighbors whose religious views differ from our own.”
“The ideal of interreligious dialogue, where all men and women, from different religious traditions, can speak to one another without arguing. This is what religious freedom allows.”
“In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or […] try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality, it is imperative that the followers of the various religious traditions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and the rights of others.”
“Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community, as our consciences dictate. But religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families. Because religion itself, the religious dimension, is not a subculture; it is part of the culture of every people and every nation.”
“Let us preserve freedom. Let us cherish freedom. Freedom of conscience, religious freedom, the freedom of each person, each family, each people, which is what gives rise to rights.”
“[May] you defend these rights, especially your religious freedom, for it has been given to you by God himself.”
In-Flight Press Conference Return to Rome from Philadelphia Monday, September 28, 2015
“I can say the conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right.”
“Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right.”
“It (conscientious objection) is a human right. […] It is a right and if we want to make peace we have to respect all rights.”
“[A] healthy pluralism…does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques.” – Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), no. 255
“Religious freedom is not only that of private thought or worship. It is the liberty to live, both privately and publicly, according to the ethical principles resulting from found truth.” – June 20, 2014
“They experience the limit, the very limit between life and death. And there are consequences for us: this experience must spur us to promote religious freedom for everyone, everyone! Every man and every woman must be free in his or her profession of religion, whatever it may be. Why? Because that man and that woman are children of God.” – May 18, 2013
“I cannot fail to recall the many instances of injustice and persecution which daily afflict religious minorities, and Christians in particular, in various parts of our world. Communities and individuals today find themselves subjected to barbaric acts of violence: they are evicted from their homes and native lands, sold as slaves, killed, beheaded, crucified or burned alive, under the shameful and complicit silence of so many.” – November 25, 2014
“Dear brothers and sisters who courageously bear witness to Jesus in the land blessed by the Lord, our consolation and our hope is Christ himself. I encourage you, then, to remain close to him, like branches on the vine, in the certainty that no tribulation, distress or persecution can separate us from him (cf. Rom 8:35). May the trials which you are presently enduring strengthen the faith and the fidelity of each and all of you!” – December 21, 2014
“When, in the name of an ideology, there is an attempt to remove God from society, it ends up adoring idols, and very soon men and women lose their way, their dignity is trampled and their rights violated.” – September 21, 2014
“We cannot deny that intolerance towards those with different religious convictions is a particularly insidious enemy, one which today is being witnessed in various areas around the world. All believers must be particularly vigilant so that, in living out with conviction our religious and ethical code, we may always express the mystery we intend to honour.” – September 21, 2014
“Authentic religion is a source of peace and not of violence! No one must use the name of God to commit violence! To kill in the name of God is a grave sacrilege. To discriminate in the name of God is inhuman.” – September 21, 2014
“Whenever adherence to a specific religious tradition gives birth to service that shows conviction, generosity and concern for the whole of society without making distinctions, then there too exists an authentic and mature living 4 out of religious freedom… The more men and women are at the service of others, the greater their freedom!” – September 21, 2014
“We must not be afraid of being Christian and living as Christians! We must have this courage to go and proclaim the Risen Christ, for he is our peace; he made peace with his love, with his forgiveness, with his blood and with his mercy.” – April 7, 2013
“What does freedom mean? It is certainly not doing whatever you want, allowing yourself to be dominated by the passions, to pass from one experience to another without discernment, to follow the fashions of the day; freedom does not mean, so to speak, throwing everything that you don’t like out the window… Let us not be afraid of life commitments, commitments that take up and concern our entire life! In this way our life will be fruitful! And this is freedom: to have the courage to make these decisions with generosity.” – May 4, 2013
“In today’s world, religious freedom is more often affirmed than put into practice.” Defending religious liberty “guarantees the growth and development of the entire community.” – June 8, 2013
“In the end, what kind of dignity is there without the possibility of freely expressing one’s thought or professing one’s religious faith? What dignity can there be without a clear juridical framework which limits the rule of force and enables the rule of law to prevail over the power of tyranny? What dignity can men and women ever enjoy if they are subjected to all types of discrimination?” – November 25, 2014
“Nor, in writing to you, can I remain silent about the members of other religious and ethnic groups who are also experiencing persecution and the effects of these conflicts. Every day I follow the new reports of the enormous suffering endured by many people in the Middle East. I think in particular of the children, the young mothers, the elderly, the homeless and all refugees, the starving and those facing the prospect of a hard winter without an adequate shelter. This suffering cries out to God and it calls for our commitment to prayer and concrete efforts to help in any way possible. I want to express to all of you my personal closeness and solidarity, as well as that of the whole Church, and to offer you a word of consolation and hope.” – Dececember 21, 2014
“The tragic situation faced by our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq, as well as by the Yazidi and members of other religious and ethnic communities, demands that all religious leaders clearly speak out to condemn these crimes unanimously and unambiguously, and to denounce the practice of invoking religion in order to justify them.” – Dececember 21, 2014
“Today the Churches and ecclesial communities in Europe find themselves facing new and decisive challenges, which can only be answered effectively by speaking with one voice. I am thinking, for example, of the challenge posed by legislators who, in the name of some badly interpreted principle of tolerance, end up preventing citizens from freely expressing and practicing their own religious convictions in a peaceful and legitimate way.” – May 7, 2015
As news trickles out about the Holy Father’s unnannounced schedule, Catholics in the United States can find encouragement he understands our current struggles to protect our religious liberties.
As released by Vatican Radio”
“Pope Francis on Wednesday made an unscheduled visit to the convent of the Little Sisters of the Poor, which is near the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where he celebrated the Mass of Canonization of St. Junipero Serra.
“The religious order operates several nursing homes and care facilities in the United States.
“The congregation is involved in a lawsuit with the Obama Administration over the country’s new health care law. The government is trying to force the religious community to comply with a contraception mandate in the law, which violates Catholic religious beliefs.
“‘This is a sign, obviously of support for them [in their court case]” said Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the head of the Holy See Press Office.
“’In this sense it is connected also to the words that the Pope has said in support of the Bishops of the United States in the speech to President Obama,’ Father Lombardi continued.
“’This was a little addition to the programme, but I think it has an important meaning in this moment,’ he said.”
Ever since President Obama’s health care law went into effect, Members of Congress have been fighting to roll back the infringements on religious liberty and conscience protections.
Three consistent leaders on the issue – Congressman Diane Black (R-TN-06), Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-01), and Congressman John Fleming (R-LA-04) – have once again introduced legislation to fix this intrusion and violation of our liberties.
Below is the text of the press release announcing introduction of the legislation.
Today Congressman Diane Black (R-TN-06), Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-01), and Congressman John Fleming (R-LA-04) announced the reintroduction of H.R. 940, the Health Care Conscience Rights Act. The bill would protect Americans’ freedom of conscience and stop the Obama Administration’s attack on religious liberty. H.R. 940 offers full exemption from Obamacare’s Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate and ensures protections for individuals and healthcare entities that refuse to provide, pay for, or refer patients to abortion providers because of their deeply held beliefs.
The legislation would also specifically address the unlawful violation of religious freedom in California, where the state Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) issued a directive requiring that all insurance plans offered on the state exchange include coverage for abortions, including plans provided by churches, religious entities, and others with conscionable objections to such procedures. The Health Care Conscience Rights Act has the bipartisan support of 110 cosponsors.
“Religious freedom is a bedrock value of our society but, on President Obama’s watch, this time-honored principle is under assault,” said Congressman Diane Black. “From Obamacare’s coercive HHS mandate to the unlawful, pro-abortion directive by the state boards in California, it is clear that Congress must act where the White House will not and reverse this infringement of our First Amendment rights. That is why our bill offers full exemption from the HHS mandate and provides needed legal protections for healthcare entities who refuse to partake in the barbaric practice of abortion. As a nurse for more than 40 years, I am proud to introduce this legislation that will safeguard the conscience rights of every American and ensure that more unborn lives can be saved in the process.”
“The rights of conscience and religious freedom preexist the government. They are rights grounded by the demands of human dignity and are enshrined in our Constitution. It is a true poverty—that in the name of health care—this most cherished American principle is under assault, violating longstanding legislative agreement and precedent. The Health Care Conscience Rights Act restores this principle for all Americans,” said Congressman Jeff Fortenberry.
“The Administration’s actions are a direct assault on Americans’ religious liberties, forcing people of faith to violate their deeply held religious beliefs,” said Congressman John Fleming. “H.R. 940 will get at the heart of the issue: providing protections against coercive government practices; codifying the Weldon amendment to allow physicians and health care entities to provide quality care without being forced to participate in an abortion; and providing a private right of action so that victims of government discrimination can seek justice.”
Supreme Court Hobby Lobby Ruling
The Supreme Court rejected Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate in favor of family businesses in last year’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stories, Inc. verdict, however Congressional action is still needed to bring clarity to this debate. Following the court’s ruling, HHS devised an “accommodation” that still requires closely held, faith-based businesses to contract out with insurance companies that will provide coverage for the morally objectionable drugs and devices. The Obama Administration’s workaround does nothing to allow small business owners the freedom to provide health care plans that match their values, it simply removes the employers’ “fingerprints” from the transaction.
California Abortion Directive
On August 22, 2014, California’s DMHC issued a directive requiring that all plans offered on their exchanges – including those purchased by churches and religious charities – to include coverage for abortion. This is a direct violation of a longstanding federal law known as the Weldon Amendment. Reps. Fleming, Black, and Fortenberry – among other members – led a November 25, 2014 letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell calling attention to this injustice. To date, the Administration has not responded. The Health Care Conscience Rights Act would specifically address this overreach.
The U.S. Bishops have asked dioceses to pray for peace in Iraq on Sunday, August 17, 2014. Let us join our voices together for peace and religious liberty with a special prayer written by the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Iraq, His Beatitude Louis Rafael Sako.
The Obama Admininstration announced late Tuesday night (July 22, 2014) the ability for non-profit organizations to “opt out” of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) contraception mandate with the simple act of a “letter” to the Federal government.
We need to stay tuned and vigilant about protecting our religious liberties at every level of government. We have high doubts it will be as simple as a “letter” to preserver conscience protections for people of faith.
Victory at the U.S. Supreme Court. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act applies to closely held corporations. Hobby Lobby is not required to provide contraception coverage.
Catholic Advocate was one of the early groups raising concerns about the religious liberty and abortion funding in the health care law signed by President Obama. Today’s ruling at the Supreme Court is a positive step in protecting our First Amendment liberties.