President Donald Trump signed a religious liberty executive order Thursday that promises "regulatory relief" for groups, like the Little Sisters of the Poor, with religious objections to the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The president asked for applause for the Little Sisters before signing the order telling them, “your long ordeal will soon be over, okay?”
The nuns and other nonprofit religious organizations that have religious objections to Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate have been involved in a nearly five-year long lawsuit against the Obama administration. The administration offered the groups an accommodation that would delegate the contraception coverage to a third party but they objected that the process still left them complicit in the coverage.
Their case was remanded to appeals courts with direction from the Supreme Court that the Obama administration and the organizations work out a compromise.
Trump said he is “directing the Department of Justice to develop new rules to ensure these religious protections are afforded to all Americans. There are more than 50 religious Americans and groups sued the previous and you’ve seen that, sued the previous administration, for violating their religious freedom.”
“We know all too well the attacks against the Little Sisters of the Poor,” he said, “incredible nuns who care for the sick, the elderly, and the forgotten.”
Trump asked where some of the sisters in attendance were, inviting them to come and stand beside him.
The two nuns in attendance, one of whom was Little Sisters Mother Provincial Mother Loraine Maguire, joined the president and received a long round of applause from those in attendance.
“Well I wanted to tell you that your long ordeal will soon be over, okay?” Trump told them. "It’s been a long, hard ordeal.”
“You had good lawyers?” Trump asked, praising their lawyers and joking, “Do you mind if I use your lawyers for various things? I could use some good lawyers too.”
“With this executive order we are ending the attacks on your religious liberty,” Trump said, “and we are proudly re-affirming America’s leadership role as a nation that protects religious freedom for everyone.”
“Nearly one year ago today the Supreme Court protected our ability to serve the elderly poor while remaining true to our faith,” Mother Loraine said in a statement Thursday. “Today we are grateful for the President’s order and look forward to the agencies giving us an exemption so that we can continue caring for the elderly poor and dying as if they were Christ himself without the fear of government punishment.”
“The President’s order makes clear that all federal agencies and lawyers must obey the law and respect religious liberty,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the Little Sisters of the Poor and others challenging the HHS Mandate. “As the Supreme Court’s orders show, it was unnecessary and illegal to impose this mandate on the Little Sisters and other religious organizations. Our country has enough real problems without picking pointless culture wars against women who spend their lives caring for the elderly poor. America is better than that.”
The order also asks the IRS to weaken enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, which bars churches and tax-exempt groups from endorsing political candidates.