Oral arguments in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell have concluded at the Supreme Court. The Little Sisters of the Poor are a Catholic religious order that is dedicated to serving the elderly poor in nursing homes. They are opposed to the HHS Contraception Mandate, arguing that it will force them to violate their religious beliefs. As the order does not discriminate in who they hire and care for (meaning that they care for and employ people of all faith backgrounds), they are not considered to be a religious employer and are therefore not eligible for an exemption to the mandate.
Prior to the beginning of oral arguments, supporters of the Little Sisters gathered outside of the Supreme Court to rally.
Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial for the Little Sisters of the Poor, released a statement explaining that she and her sisters do not understand why the government will not grant the Little Sisters of the Poor the same exemption that large corporations like Exxon and Pepsi receive.
“Hello, my name is Sister Loraine Marie Clare. The Lord has given me a beautiful calling; that of being a Little Sister of the Poor.
We Little Sisters of the Poor are a group of women who make religious vows to God. We dedicate ourselves to serving the elderly poor regardless of race or religion, offering them a home where they are welcomed as Christ, cared for as family and accompanied with dignity until God calls them to Himself. We have done this for more than 175 years.
But now we find ourselves in a situation where the government is requiring us to include services in our religious health care plan that violate some of our deepest held religious beliefs as Little Sisters.
We don’t understand why the government is doing this when there is an easy solution that doesn’t involve us—it can provide these services on the exchanges. It’s also hard to understand why the government is doing this when 1/3 of all Americans aren’t even covered by this mandate, and large corporations like Exxon, Visa, and Pepsi are fully exempt, yet the government threatens us with fines of 70 million dollars per year if we don’t comply.
It is a privilege for us to care for the most vulnerable members of our society; serving them, comforting them, being a loving and healing presence in their lives; just being a “Little Sister to them” is our joy. All we ask, is that we can continue to do this work.
After hearing the argument today, we are hopeful for a positive outcome. We will continue to trust God because--as our Mother Foundress St. Jeanne Jugan said: “God will help us, the work is His”.
Thank you and God bless.”
A decision is expected in June.
UPDATE: Here is a statement from the Catholic Association outlining what happened today in oral arguments:
“Today in oral argument, Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts suggested that the government was "hijacking" the healthcare plan of the Little Sisters of the Poor to advance its agenda. That's exactly what they are doing. And today outside the Court, an overwhelmingly female crowd filled with hundreds of nuns stood in protest of the last relic of a mandate that would force the Little Sisters to violate their deepest beliefs or pay 70 million dollars in fines. As a Catholic woman, I was proud to stand with the Little Sisters in their fight against government bullies for religious liberty.” – Ashley McGuire, Senior Fellow with The Catholic Association
UPDATE: Here's a statement from Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life.
"This case consists of no less than 37 different petitioners: bishops, priests, religious brothers, religious sisters, lay men and women, heads of ministries, Protestants, evangelicals, schools, and individuals, including the niece of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, Evangelist Alveda King.
"Having heard the oral arguments, I am cautiously optimistic that we will have a 4-to-4 split decision, which may mean re-argument of the case next term. The Chief Justice summarized our position in his line of questioning by calling the government's mandate a ‘hijacking’ of our insurance plans to advance its interests.
"The bottom line is that the government's ‘accommodation’ does not accommodate us at all, because we are still left with the choice between following the law and following our faith. If religious freedom means anything in America, it means that no believer should ever be put into that position."