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Little Sisters have day in court

Before a looming federal courthouse building in downtown Denver, the provincial superior of the Little Sisters of the Poor said in a press conference earlier this week that the order of nuns is not seeking “special privileges” in its lawsuit against the HHS mandate—the nuns only wish to continue to serve the elderly and dying.

Mother Loraine Marie Maguire, l.s.p., gave public comments Dec. 8 following the Little Sisters’ oral arguments before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals contending the federal contraceptive mandate is a violation of religious freedom as guaranteed by the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“But now the government demands we choose between our care for the elderly poor and our faith,” Mother Maguire said during the conference. “We cannot do that and we should not have to. It is a choice that violates our nation’s historic commitment to ensure that people from diverse faiths can freely follow God’s calling in their lives.”

Attorneys from The Becket Fund for Religious Freedom presented the nuns’ case in a lawsuit challenging the mandate, a part of the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare. The nuns argue the government is forcing them to act against their religious beliefs because of its requirement to provide free contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs to employees, or pay steep fines.

“The government forces us to either violate our conscience or take millions of dollars that we raise by begging for the care of the elderly poor and instead pay fines to the IRS,” Mother Maguire said.

Churches are exempt from the mandate, but charitable organizations like the Little Sisters are not. Mother Maguire said the Little Sisters are seeking the same exemption.

“The government exempts huge corporations, small businesses, and other religious ministries from what they are imposing on us—we are simply asking to carry on our mission to serve the elderly poor as we have always done for 175 years,” she said.

The Little Sisters operate 28 nursing homes for the elderly poor across the U.S. The order makes up one of 126 nonprofit plaintiffs who have filed suit against the mandate.

Mother Patricia Mary Metzgar, l.s.p., who oversees the Little Sisters’ Mullen Home for the Aged in Denver, was also at the hearing, along with other nuns from the order.

After filing an appeal in February in Denver federal court, the nuns were granted a temporary injunction, which shields them from the mandate and its fines. 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. If they do win the appeal, their case could be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Becket Fund’s Mark Rienzi, lead attorney for the Little Sisters, called the government’s mandate on the nuns’ “ridiculous.”

“A year after losing at the Supreme Court, the government’s aggressive pursuit of the Little Sisters of the Poor continues,” Rienzi said at the conference. “Untold millions of people have managed to get contraceptives without the involvement of nuns. The idea that the most powerful government in the world cannot come up with a way to distribute these products without forcing the Little Sisters to participate is ridiculous.”

Mother Maguire said the Little Sisters said they are grateful the appeals court heard its case and “prayerfully await the judges’ decision.”

For more information about the Becket Fund and the Little Sisters case, visit www.becketfund.org/hhsinformationcentral.

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