Religious Liberty for Christmas?

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Twas the Night Before Christmas Eve and all through the U.S., injunctions were issued, and when there wasn’t there was snark.

Monday saw injunctions issued in a number of cases against the Department of Health and Human Services over the abortion-drug, contraception, female sterilization “Preventative Services” employer mandate under Obamacare, including to plea by Geneva College, a Reformed Presbyterian college in Pennsylvania.

According to the ruling:

Geneva showed that it is likely to succeed on the merits of its RFRA claim; that it will suffer irreparable harm absent injunctive relief; and that the public interest favors granting injunctive relief.

The University of Notre Dame did not have the same success. In what some are considering a bit of a cosmic justice, the school that hosted President Obama’s bogus promise to respect conscience rights on life in May 2008, was denied an injunction request. In the ruling, the judge seems to complain that the school added to his pre-Christmas workload. I think it’s safe to say they have another shot … that religious liberty will.

Meanwhile, the Little Sisters of the Poor wait to hear if a judge will grant them relief. The Baltimore Sun highlighted their case yesterday:

In a case that could have implications for ministries across the country, a Catonsville-based group of nuns who care for the elderly poor are awaiting a federal judge’s decision on whether it must comply with the federal health care law’s requirement to provide free contraceptive coverage for lay employees.

The Little Sisters of the Poor say they could face substantial IRS fines beginning in January if they don’t comply with the rule.

While the federal health care law exempts churches, the Little Sisters of the Poor don’t fall under the government’s definition of a religious employer — and providing free access to birth control violates their religious vows, they say. The Catholic Church teaches that artificial contraception is immoral.

 ”Simply put, as a matter of religious faith, the Little Sisters Home may not participate in any way in the government’s program to provide access to these services,” states the class-action federal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, where one of the Little Sisters’ homes operates.

The Little Sisters, founded in the 1800s, operate about 30 homes for the elderly across the country, including St. Martin’s Home in Catonsville. Their lawsuit was filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit public-interest law firm that is also representing Hobby Lobby — an Oklahoma-based retail chain of craft stores that is also challenging the contraceptive coverage mandate — in a high-profile case that the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear next year.

As Sr. Constance Veit, L.S.P. told me in an interview in October:

For us, this has nothing to do with politics. It is a question of respect for every human life created in God’s image, and of fidelity to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, and our religious vows.

Our lives are usually quite hidden and we never seek to be in the public eye. In April we filed comments with the government explaining how the HHS mandate would require us to violate our religious beliefs, and we hoped that the issue would be resolved in the final rule that came out in June. Unfortunately, the government would not give us a religious exemption, leaving us with no choice but to ask the courts for help so we can avoid IRS fines. We just want to take care of the elderly poor without being forced to violate the faith that animates our work.

Perhaps there will be a Christmas gift today for them today in the news; will religious liberty be protected?

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