Freedom of Religion

Catholic Nuns vs. Obamacare in First-of-a-Kind Class-Action Lawsuit

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Does this count as a "war on women"?
Credit: neil1877 / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

A group of Catholic nuns are leading the charge in a class action lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The religious group believes the HHS is violating its First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

On Tuesday, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty announced a lawsuit it filed on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor, nuns who provide charitable care to over 13,000 elderly poor people worldwide. They challenge an Obamacare mandate that requires employers to cover contraceptives. The nuns believe that facilitating the use of such products, whether directly or indirectly, violates their vocation to a higher power than the U.S. government. The Becket Fund explains why the case is unique:

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.

Media Matters for America contends that the issue has been spun by "right-wing media." The group cites a Slate article that states, "the burden here is insignificant, amounting to a few dollars borne indirectly by the employer to facilitate independent, private decisions made by their female employees." They also note a Kaiser Health News post that points out that the mandate has been modified and its exemptions broadened.

However, Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund believes that the change was ineffective. "The Sisters should obviously be exempted as 'religious employers,' but the government has refused to expand its definition. These women just want to take care of the elderly poor without being forced to violate the faith that animates their work."

The Sisters, whose operations survive entirely on donations, will be subject to fines if they do not comply with Obamacare's current requirements. David Martosko of the Daily Caller previously predicted that the financial burden could ultimately drive the charitable organization out of the U.S. entirely.

David Catron of the American Spectator argues that such cases are not about "whether a corporation can have religious beliefs," or "even about contraception," but "about religious liberty." He cites the ruling regarding a retail chain, Hobby Lobby, in which the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals stated, "[W]e cannot see why an individual operating for-profit retains Free Exercise protections but an individual who incorporates… does not."