Little Sisters appeal to Supreme Court

Told to either violate faith or pay massive fines, sisters continue to seek religious freedom

The Little Sisters of the Poor will pursue their last hope in the drawn-out legal battle over religious freedom by taking their plea to the Supreme Court.

The order of sisters ask the court for relief from the federal Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that requires contraception, abortifacients and sterilizations in employee healthcare coverage—a requirement they say violates their religious beliefs.

The Little Sisters and their attorneys from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty announced July 23 that they filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to hear their case and grant them protection from the HHS mandate, a part of the Affordable Care Act.

The decision came shortly after the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected their claim that the mandate would be a violation of their conscience and that the existing exemption “relieves [the Little Sisters] from complicity.”

However, the Little Sisters argue signing the waiver form to obtain an exemption “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 authorize a third-party to provide the services they find morally objectionable.

The court told the sisters they could violate their religious beliefs or pay steep IRS penalties estimated around $6,700 a day or $2.5 million a year, according to the Becket Fund.

The Little Sisters care for the elderly poor.

The Little Sisters care for the elderly poor.

Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial of the Little Sisters, said they only want to serve the elderly poor.

“As Little Sisters of the Poor, we dedicate our lives to serving the neediest in society, with love and dignity,” Sister Maguire said. “We perform this loving ministry because of our faith and simply cannot choose between our care for the elderly poor and our faith, and we shouldn’t have to. We hope the Supreme Court will hear our case and ensure that people from diverse faiths can freely follow God’s calling in their lives.”

Attorneys filed the petition on behalf of the sisters as well as the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, Christian Brothers Services, Reaching Souls International, Truett-McConnell College and GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention—all religious organizations that seek protection from the mandate.

“The government has lost every single time they have made these arguments before the Supreme Court—including last year’s landmark Hobby Lobby case,” said Mark Rienzi, lead attorney for the sisters, in a statement. “One would think they would get the message and stop pressuring the sisters. The government is willing to exempt big companies like Exxon, Chevron and Pepsi Bottling, but it won’t leave the Little Sisters alone.”

The Becket Fund said the Supreme Court is likely to consider all of the petitions in late September or early October. If the petition is granted, the case could be argued and decided before the end of the court’s term in June 2016.

“The sisters consider it immoral to help the government distribute these drugs. But instead of simply exempting them, the government insists that it can take over their ministry’s employee healthcare to distribute these drugs to their employees, while dismissing the sisters’ moral objections as irrelevant,” Rienzi said. “In America, judges and government bureaucrats have no authority to tell the Little Sisters what is moral or immoral. And the government can distribute its drugs without nuns—it has its own healthcare exchanges that can provide whatever it wants.”

The Becket Fund is a nonprofit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. Its recent cases include the landmark case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, in which the Supreme Court granted a victory to the arts and crafts retailer.

COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.