Category: Religious Freedom

Pope Shows Support For Lawsuit Against Contraceptive Mandate

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.

Pope(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.

Safeguarding the “precious possession” of religious liberty

Speaking at the White House on the first day of his visit to the United States, Pope Francis touched on what has been an area of great concerns for Christians across our nation over the past few years – the right to religious liberty.  As is necessary from a visiting dignitary of his stature, he referred to a domestic problem without directly criticizing his host:

Mr. President, together with their fellow citizens, 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.

Judging by the actions of the current administration, this was a necessary and pointed reminder.  From forcing businesses to pay for contraceptive coverage to bankrupting companies who refuse to participate in same-sex weddings, it has been increasingly difficult to exercise religious freedom in America without serious consequences.  And the courts have been a mixed bag, with the Supreme Court standing tall in Hobby Lobby but lower federal courts upholding massive fines against businesses refusing same-sex services.  This battle will only continue in the years ahead.