Of all the elements that make up the Catholic church in the US, I am most sympathetic towards the nuns. In their modern incarnation, they seem to do genuine good works among the poor and needy and seem less interested in pushing the church’s official positions against contraception, abortion, and homosexuality, for which lack of zeal they were reprimanded and placed under investigation by pope Benedict though pope Francis has quietly shelved that process.
But there is one group of nuns that seems pretty doctrinaire and unpleasant and that is the order known as the Little Sisters of the Poor. There is something too self-consciously humble about their name, especially the ‘little’ part, that annoys me, especially since they are actually a large worldwide organization that employs a lot of people.
They objected to the part of Obamacare that required health insurance policies to cover contraception. The Obama administration provided an accommodation that allowed religious organizations to submit a simple form to their group health plan’s health insurance issuer or third-party administrator or to the department of Health and Human Services that would automatically exempt them from paying for such coverage, though the federal government would step in and pay for the coverage instead so that the employees would not suffer an extra burden simply because they happened to work for a religious business.
But the LSP claimed that even submitting such a form was an affront to their religious beliefs and went to court. A US District Court judge denied their claim for an injunction and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling The LSP then appealed to the US Supreme Court that issued an injunction on January 24, 2014, pending a resolution of the case.
On July 14, 2015, after a full review of the case, the Tenth Circuit held against the LSP and two other organizations, ruling that submitting such a form did not impose a substantial burden on the exercise of their religion and thus did not violate their religious freedom, under either RFRA or the First Amendment.
Having to file paperwork or otherwise register a religious objection, even if one disagrees with the ultimate aim of the law at issue, does not alone substantially burden religious exercise.
The Departments have made opting out of the Mandate at least as easy as obtaining a parade permit, filing a simple tax form, or registering to vote—in other words, a routine, brief administrative task.
Plaintiffs sincerely oppose contraception, but their religious objection cannot hamstring government efforts to ensure that plan participants and beneficiaries receive the coverage to which they are entitled under the ACA. “Religious objectors do not suffer substantial burdens under RFRA where the only harm to them is that they sincerely feel aggrieved by their inability to prevent what other people would do to fulfill regulatory objectives after they opt out.”
The Little Sisters of the Poor may appeal to the US Supreme Court. I am not sure that the court has the stomach for yet another Obamacare case, though the religious overtones of this one may sway them to hear it.