In a huge victory for religious freedom and the pro-life community, the United States Supreme Court has ruled 7-2 in favor of a Trump Administration initiative that allows organizations to opt-out of providing birth control to their employers.
In 2011, Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns who have tended to the poor and elderly for nearly 150 years, refused to include abortion-inducing drugs as part of their health coverage. The requirement to provide the contraceptives came from an Obamacare mandate, which only excluded churches and religious schools, but no other religious organizations. Because of their refusal, the charity faced millions of dollars in fines. However, in 2016 they were handed a victory by the Supreme Court who removed the lower court fines.
In 2017, the Trump Administration expanded the exemptions beyond churches and religious schools, and included organizations whose objection were based in “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Pennsylvania and other states sued the Federal Government resulting in a temporary block in the new rule. Religious Liberty law firm, the Becket Fund, intervened on behalf of Little Sisters of the Poor, who were adversely impacted when the rule was blocked. Becket’s judicial battle came before the Supreme Court in May 2020 when oral arguments were heard for Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Two months later the high court issued a 7-2 ruling in favor of Little Sisters of the Poor, and ultimately in favor of the Trump Administrations’ expansion of religious liberty for employers.
Mother Loraine Marie Maguire spoke for the Little Sisters of the Poor:
“We are overjoyed that, once again, the Supreme Court has protected our right to serve the elderly without violating our faith…Our life’s work and great joy is serving the elderly poor and we are so grateful that the contraceptive mandate will no longer steal our attention from our calling.”
“The Little Sisters’ long struggle for survival is one evidence of the growing hostility to religion in America. It should be common sense to allow a religious group to conduct themselves according to their religious convictions, and yet government agents have tried to punish them with obtuse fines for doing just that. We are pleased to see the Supreme Court still recognizes religious freedom.”
Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of The Court, joined in full by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, while two of The Court’s liberals, Justices Breyer and Kagan, gave concurring opinions. Justices Ginsberg and Sotomayor both dissented.
“For over 150 years, the Little Sisters have engaged in faithful service and sacrifice, motivated by a religious calling to surrender all for the sake of their brother. . . . But for the past seven years, they—like many other religious objectors who have participated in the litigation and rulemakings leading up to today’s decision— have had to fight for the ability to continue in their noble work without violating their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
–Justice Clarence Thomas