Press Release

States, scholars, members of Congress and diverse religious groups defend Little Sisters of the Poor at High Court Religious exemptions on the line in high stakes Supreme Court case

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

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WASHINGTON – Twenty states, leading scholars, 161 members of Congress and several diverse faith groups including Muslims, Jews and Christians filed briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday supporting the Little Sisters of the Poor in their legal battle against the HHS contraceptive mandate. In Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Little Sisters are defending their hard-won religious exemption from a lawsuit by the Pennsylvania Attorney General that threatens their ministry of serving the elderly poor. On April 29, the Little Sisters of the Poor will once again stand before the U.S. Supreme Court to defend their religious liberty and try to end this legal battle once and for all.

The HHS contraceptive mandate required the Little Sisters to provide services such as the week-after pill in their health care plans or pay millions of dollars in fines. Since their legal battle began seven years ago, the Little Sisters have been protected twice at the Supreme Court, and a new federal rule issued in 2018 secured a religious exemption for all religious non-profits when the government admitted it has many other less-burdensome ways to distribute contraceptives. Yet several states, including Pennsylvania and California, have sued the federal government to take that protection away, forcing the Little Sisters back to the Supreme Court. Several diverse groups filed friend-of-the-court briefs to the High Court yesterday in support of the Little Sisters and to defend the religious exemptions at stake.

“Nothing in our Nation’s tradition of religious exemptions, in RFRA, in the APA, or in the ACA suggests that the agency lacked authority to grant the religious exemption here,” stated Doug Laycock, the Robert E. Scott Distinguished Professor of Law and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, in his friend-of-the-court brief filed in support of the Little Sisters. “To the contrary, any reasonable effort to comply with RFRA requires the agency to grant religious exemptions, and those exemptions need not precisely match ultimate judicial interpretation of RFRA’s minimum requirements.”

A brief from the Independent Women’s Law Center urged the Court to bring these cases to a complete end by holding “that RFRA mandated the final rule’s exemption” and explained that doing so would help both the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts “avoid rendering unnecessary opinions on a host of related but more complicated issues.”

In 2016, the government admitted before the Supreme Court that it has ways to get contraceptives to women without forcing the Little Sisters of the Poor to participate. California and Pennsylvania each have programs for providing free contraceptives to women who want them. Yet, both states are suing to force the federal government to enforce the federal mandate against the Little Sisters, even after the federal government granted them an exemption.

“The broad support for the Little Sisters shows that, even in a divided country, people of good will can agree that no one needs to punish Catholic nuns for not giving out contraception.” said Mark Rienzi, president of Becket. “Pennsylvania’s effort to punish the Little Sisters and their elderly residents is petty and unconstitutional. The Supreme Court should end this needless culture war fight once and for all.”

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on April 29.

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Ryan Colby at or 202-349-7219. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.