We spoke yesterday of Pope Francis making a subtle but unmistakable statement about the importance of religious freedom in America. That message got a bit more direct today when the Pope made an unscheduled visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor convent located next door to the basilica where he canonized St. Junipero Serra.
The location was no coincidence, as the Little Sisters filed a lawsuit in 2013 to prevent the Obama administration from forcing them to provide free contraception to their employees. If anyone doubted the connection between the visit and court case, the Vatican made it clear.
“This is a sign, obviously, of support for them,” said Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican Press Secretary.
(Photo: Little Sisters of the Poor)
That support is crucial, because the Little Sisters lost the latest round of their court case just three weeks ago when the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to grant them a rehearing. Fortunately, five of the judges wrote a strong dissent which may form the basis for a Supreme Court decision going the other way:
The opinion of the panel majority is clearly and gravely wrong on an issue that has little to do with contraception and a great deal to do with religious liberty. When a law demands that a person do something the person considers sinful, and the penalty for refusal is a large financial penalty, then the law imposes a substantial burden on that person’s free exercise of religion. All the plaintiffs in this case sincerely believe that they will be violating God’s law if they execute the documents required by the government. And the penalty for refusal to execute the documents may be in the millions of dollars.
The Little Sisters continue to refuse to provide contraception while the case is on appeal to the Supreme Court.