The justices ruled that the religious order need not, for the time being, sign a form authorizing contraceptive coverage in health insurance for its employees. The justices stipulated, however, that the ruling was not on the merits of the Little Sisters' appeal, but is instead a temporary order barring enforcement by the federal government, pending a decision by a federal appeals court. The order affirms and extends the temporary injunction granted on New Year's Eve by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
The Little Sisters, a Roman Catholic religious order, is an international ministry, with nursing homes in Denver and Baltimore. Under the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ObamaCare) and a subsequent mandate from the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), employers must ensure that healthcare benefits for their workers include coverage for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. Non-profits with religious affiliations may be exempted by signing a form authorizing a third-party benefits provider to supply the coverage at no cost to either the employer or the employee. The Sisters have refused to sign the waiver, claiming it would make them complicit in what their church teaches are immoral acts. As their attorney, Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, argued in the brief he submitted to the Supreme Court, the Sisters "cannot execute the form because they cannot deputize a third-party to sin on their behalf."
The penalty for non-compliance is $100 a day per employee or $6,700 per day for the Little Sisters. That, said Rienzi in an appearance earlier this month on Fox News Sunday, would force the Little Sisters to close the nursing homes — a result, he argued, that would be contrary to the purpose of Affordable Care Act as well as a violation of the religious liberty clause of the First Amendment.
"Fewer elderly people will get the health care they need in those beautiful nursing homes the sisters run. The employees [who] used to have jobs at the Little Sisters of the Poor might not have a place to work if the government succeeds in crushing these nursing homes."
Lawyers from the Department of Justice argued the government is doing nothing of the kind. The insurer of healthcare benefits for Little Sister employees is another religious-affiliated group, the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust. The trust does not include contraception or abortion in its healthcare coverage, so the Justice Department argued that the Little Sisters' religious objection to signing the required form is moot.
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