Don’t tell religious sisters what to believe, attorneys tell court

The Little Sisters of the Poor spelled out their objections to the federal birth control mandate Feb. 24 by filing a detailed 74-page appeal in Denver federal court.

The Catholic nuns, who operate nursing homes nationally and in Denver, were granted a temporary injunction from the federal Health and Human Services mandate that is a part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The requirement to provide contraceptive coverage in employee health plans is contrary to their religious beliefs, the appeal states.

“The sisters just want to be able to do what they have been doing and offer generous health benefits that don’t include drugs the sisters can’t help provide,” said attorney Adele Keim of the nonprofit Becket Fund, which is representing the sisters.

Mother Patricia Mary, L.S.P., of the Little Sister’s Denver Mullen Home for the Aged, was unavailable for comment.

The appeal argues the HHS mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment that guarantee freedom of religion.

At issue is a waiver form the sisters could sign to receive an exemption from the mandate, but the appeal states that it “would make them morally complicit in sin, would contradict their public witness to the value of life, and would immorally run the risk of misleading others.” The form in fact would only authorize a third-party to provide the services they find morally objectionable.

A district court in December denied the sister’s motion for protection from the mandate, saying they read “too much into the language of the form.”

But the Becket Fund fired back saying it’s not for the district court to disagree with the moral line the Little Sisters draw.

Regardless of what the “government thinks the Little Sisters should believe, the undisputed fact is that they do believe their religion forbids them from signing (the form),” the appeal states.

The Little Sisters filed an appeal the same day and also filed an emergency injunction with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The Obama administration refuted the injunction saying the sisters only need to sign the form to “secure for themselves the relief they seek” … “with the stroke of their own pen.”

The Supreme Court granted the injunction pending the outcome of the appeal.

An appeal hearing date before the Denver federal court has yet to be set.

Keim said the Little Sisters are only asking for something the government has given other religious employers.

“The government has already exempted thousands of other American businesses from complying with the contraceptive mandate and it’s already exempted thousands of churches from complying with the mandate. The Little Sisters simply want their religious objections to be treated the same way as the religious objections brought forward by these thousands of churches,” she said.

If the sisters do not win the appeal, they would be fined $6,700 a day and nearly $2.5 million a year, which is a third of its $6 million budget. The Little Sisters of Denver employ about 67 full-time employees.

COMING UP: Colorado bishops issue letter on the Hyde Amendment and other pro-life Congressional policies

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We, the Catholic bishops of Colorado, urge Congressional Representatives to support the Hyde Amendment and the Walden Amendment. We also ask the Faithful to sign The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) petition to lawmakers encouraging them to preserve the Hyde Amendment, which can be accessed at:, and to contact their Congressmen and women to support the Hyde and Walden amendments.

The House Appropriations Labor and Health and Human Services subcommittee recently passed a spending bill that strips protections for pre-born children, healthcare providers,and American taxpayers by excluding pro-life provisions, including the Hyde and Weldon amendments.

The Hyde Amendment, which prohibits taxpayer dollars from being used to fund abortion in most cases, except for rape and incest, has received bipartisan support since its inception in 1976 – including by pro-abortion administrations. Hyde is critical in saving lives. The Charlotte Lozier Institute estimates that approximately 60,000 pre-born babies are saved every year because of the Hyde Amendment.[1] This is the first time in 40 years that the Hyde Amendment was not included in the annual appropriations bill[2] and failure to include pro-life amendments will only further increase divisions in our country.

The Weldon Amendment prevents any federal programs, agencies, and state and local governments from discriminating against health care practitioners and institutions that do not provide abortion services. It ensures that pro-life individuals and organizations can enter the health care profession without fearing that the government will force them to perform a procedure that violates their well-founded convictions. It has also received bipartisan support and was added to the appropriations bill every year since it was first enacted in 2005. [3]

Congress’ recent actions endanger the lives of pre-born children and infringe on the rights of millions of Americans who do not wish to participate in the moral evil of abortion. A recent Knights of Columbus/Marist poll found that 58 percent of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortions[4] and a 2019 Gallup poll shows that 60 percent of Americans think abortion should either be illegal or only legal in a few circumstances.[5]

The government should neither use taxpayer funds for the killing of pre-born children nor compel medical practitioners and institutions to violate their well-founded convictions. Congress must uphold these long-standing, common-sense bipartisan policies that promote a culture of life in our nation.

Human reason and science affirm that human life begins at conception. The Church objects to abortion on the moral principle that each and every human life has inherent dignity, and thus must be treated with respect due to every human person. There has never been and never will be a legitimate need to abort a baby in the womb.

It is critical that Congress continue its long-history of supporting policies such as the Hyde and Walden amendments, and that all Colorado Catholics and people of good will make their voice heard in supporting these life-affirming policies.

Sign the petition to Congress here:

Contact your Congressional Representatives here:

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila
Archbishop of Denver

Most Reverend Stephen J. Berg
Bishop of Pueblo

Most Reverend James R. Golka
Bishop of Colorado Springs

Most Reverend Jorge Rodriguez
Auxiliary Bishop of Denver