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The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 67 Catholic Theologians, Lutherans, Southern Baptists, and the National Association of Evangelicals File Briefs Supporting the Little Sisters of the Poor By Adèle Keim, Legal Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

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By Adèle Keim, Legal Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

On New Years’ Eve, Justice Sonia Sotomayor intervened to protect the Little Sisters of the Poor from crushing penalties that were scheduled to begin at midnight—an order that was confirmed and expanded by the entire Supreme Court on January 24. As a result, the Little Sisters are protected from complying with the Mandate (including the government’s so-called “accommodation”) while their appeal is being considered by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. Yesterday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 67 Catholic theologians, and a wide-ranging group of Protestant organizations—including the National Association of Evangelicals, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod—filed briefs to tell the Tenth Circuit why the Little Sisters deserve more lasting relief.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explained their own opposition to the Mandate—and the government’s “accommodation”—in these terms:

[T]he Conference has steadily voiced its opposition to any rule that would require faithful Catholics or others to choose between violating their religious beliefs and exposing their organizations to devastating penalties. … Despite [the Bishops’] clear statement that the “accommodation” would require Catholic organizations to violate their religious beliefs, the Government finalized the “accommodation” and began falsely proclaiming that it had reached a compromise that would satisfy religious objections to the Mandate.

Amicus Br. of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at 2-3.

The 67 Catholic theologians—including renowned University of Notre Dame professor John Cavadini—explained why the “accommodation” is inconsistent with Catholic moral theology:

The Little Sisters can reasonably conclude that the Mandate places them in a situation analogous to the servant who obeys a command to participate in the master’s immoral scheme. On this view, from the Little Sisters’ perspective, the “criminous master,” is the Government, which is attempting to implement a program designed to promote the use of contraceptives and abortifacients. Indeed, it is beyond dispute that the purpose of the Mandate is to promote the availability and usage of contraceptives, abortifacients, and elective sterilization, as the district court conceded. This objective is plainly impermissible under Catholic doctrine. … By submitting the Form with knowledge of the Government’s objectives, on this view, the Little Sisters would be joining the Government’s intention to promote the use of abortifacients, contraceptives, and sterilization, and thus become complicit in that action. Moreover, such formal cooperation would be impermissible regardless of whether the Government actually succeeds in its objective of promoting the use of contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization.

Amicus Br. of 67 Catholic Theologians at 11-12.

And a brief filed on behalf of the National Association of Evangelicals, two major Protestant denominations (Southern Baptists and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod), Prison Fellowship Ministries and the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (among others), explained why the government’s decision to exempt churches but not other religious ministries makes no sense:

Until the Mandate, religious educational institutions and religious ministries to society’s most vulnerable … epitomized the quintessential “religious employer” and, therefore, were protected under responsible federal definitions of “religious employer.” But the Mandate unilaterally re-defined most religious employers to be non-religious employers. By administrative fiat, religious educational institutions, hospitals, associations, and charities were deprived of their religious liberty.

Amicus Br. of Christian Legal Society et al. at 7. Amicus briefs were also filed by Liberty Counsel, Concerned Women for America, and the Life, Liberty, and Law Foundation. All in all, a strong showing of support for the Little Sisters.