Religious Sisters File First Class-Action Lawsuit Against Controversial HHS Mandate


sisters-of-the-poorToday, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a religious order of Sisters dedicated to caring for the elderly poor (see video).  Without relief, the Little Sisters face millions of dollars in IRS fines because they cannot comply with the government’s mandate that they give their employees free access to contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.  The Little Sisters are joined by their religious health benefits providers, Christian Brothers Services and Christian Brothers Employee Benefits Trust, and a class of other religious organizations facing similar fines, in the first class action lawsuit against the Mandate.

The Little Sisters of the Poor are an international Roman Catholic Congregation of women Religious founded in 1839 by St. Jeanne Jugan.  They operate homes in 31 countries, where they provide loving care for over 13,000 needy elderly persons.  Thirty of these homes are located in the United States.

“Like all of the Little Sisters, I have vowed to God and the Roman Catholic Church that I will treat all life as valuable, and I have dedicated my life to that work,” explained Sister Loraine Marie, Superior for one of the three U.S. provinces in the Congregation.  “We cannot violate our vows by participating in the government’s program to provide access to abortion inducing drugs.”

Although the Little Sisters’ homes perform a religious ministry of caring for the elderly poor, they do not fall within the government’s narrow exemption for “religious employers.”  Accordingly, beginning on January 1, the Little Sisters will face IRS fines unless they violate their religion by hiring an insurer to provide their employees with contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.

“The Sisters should obviously be exempted as ‘religious employers,’ but the government has refused to expand its definition,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead counsel for the Little Sisters.   “These women just want to take care of the elderly poor without being forced to violate the faith that animates their work.  The money they collect should be used to care for the poor like it always has—and not to pay the IRS.”

The lawsuit is the first of its kind both because it is a class-action suit that will represent hundreds of Catholic non-profit ministries with similar beliefs and because it is the first on behalf of benefits providers who cannot comply with the Mandate.

The lawsuit was filed in federal District Court in Denver.  There are now 72 lawsuits challenging the mandate.


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  • What about the conscience rights of the employees? Seems to me two sets of principles are getting confused in this litigation: (1) the rights of each individual to access health care in accordance with one’s own conscience and (2) the policies and procedures of an employer. No one would expect the government to require a nun to obtain contraceptives. But by the same token, a nun-employer may not bar an employee from contraceptive services simply because the nun does not elect this service for herself.

  • GuitarGramma

    Mr. Cook, you have posted very similar comments on two different articles. Because of this, I will reprise my previous answer to you.

    1 – A woman is not barred from using contraceptives when her employer refuses to pay for them. She can pay for them herself.
    2 – Men pay for their own condoms. Why treat women differently?
    3 – As recently as the 1970s, contraceptives were viewed as elective and thus employees paid for them out of their own pockets.

    I shall also repeat my paraphrase of a recent YouTube video:
    If you were Jewish, I would not expect you to buy me a ham sandwich. If you were an atheist, I would not expect you to buy me a Bible. Since I am a Catholic business owner, why would you expect me to buy your significant other’s contraceptives?