Press Release

Little Sisters defend their Supreme Court Victory from Calif. AG Ninth Circuit will decide if Becerra’s lawsuit can take away Catholic nuns’ legal protection from HHS mandate

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Little Sisters of the Poor were in federal court today defending themselves from a new lawsuit by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is attempting to strip the nuns of their religious exemption to the HHS mandate. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments today in State of California v. Little Sisters of the Poor and will decide if the order of Catholic nuns can continue caring for the elderly poor without violating their Catholic faith.

Last October, as directed by the Supreme Court in Zubik v. Burwell, HHS issued a new regulation giving religious non-profits, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, legal protection from having to provide services such as the week-after pill in their healthcare plan in violation of their faith. Yet shortly after the regulation was passed, Becerra sued to take away the Little Sisters’ religious exemption, forcing the nuns back to court. Becket defended the Little Sisters in court today, arguing that the religious exemption is required by civil rights law.

“We pray that the court will protect our ability to continue serving the elderly poor as we have for over 175 years without being forced to violate our faith,” said Sister Theresa Gertrude of the Little Sisters of the Poor. (Watch her full statement here).

The Little Sisters spent four years battling the HHS mandate that would have forced them to violate their faith or pay millions in fines. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where the government admitted that it has ways to get contraceptives to women without using the Little Sisters of the Poor. Following the 2016 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court and a Presidential Executive Order, HHS issued a new rule that finally protects the Little Sisters and other religious non-profits. The government had long exempted big businesses—such as Exxon, Chevron and Pepsi—and even its own health care plans, yet California never sued the Obama administration for creating the exemptions that reach tens of millions more people than the Little Sisters’ exemption.

“Politicians have no right pushing around religious women like the Little Sisters of the Poor,” said Mark Rienzi, president of Becket and lead attorney for the Little Sisters of the Poor. “The Little Sisters already endured a lengthy legal battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court; they don’t need this unnecessary lawsuit to try to take them away from caring for the poor.”

Becket President Mark Rienzi argued on behalf of the Little Sisters. A ruling is expected sometime in 2019.

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Melinda Skea at or 202-349-7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.


Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100% win-rate before the United States Supreme Court. For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more here).