(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to take up the case that the Little Sisters of the Poor--an order of Catholic nuns--has brought against the Obama administration for violating the sisters' right to the free exercise of religion.
"All we ask is that our rights not be taken away," said Sister Loraine Mari Maguire, the Mother Provincial of the order, in a statement released by the Becket Fund, the nonprofit law firm that represents the sisters.
At issue is whether the federal government can force these Catholic nuns to cooperate with the government in making sure that the health care plan they provide to their employees covers sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs and devices.
The Catholic Church teaches that all of these things are intrinsically immoral.
"The Little Sisters of the Poor are Catholic nuns who devote their lives to caring for the elderly poor," the Becket Fund said in its appeal to the Supreme Court to take up the case. "The governent has put them to the impossible choice of either violating the law or violating the faith upon which their lives and their ministry are based.
"HHS insists that the Little Sisters must comply with a mandate that their employee healthcare plans 'provide coverage' for free contraceptives," said the appeal. "Although there is no dispute that the Little Sisters sincerely believe that all the available compliance methods would make them morally complicit in grave sin, HHS refuses to give them the exemption it has given to other religious employers, and instead requires them to comply, either directly or by executing documents that authorize and obligate others to use the Little Sisters' healthcare plans to accomplish the 'seamless' provision of contraceptive coverage."
When Pope Francis was in the United States in September, he visited the Little Sisters' nursing home in Washington, D.C., to show support for their cause.
The Obama Justice Department has argued--including in a brief presented to the Supreme Court--that in forcing the Little Sisters to allow their health care plan to be used as a conduit to provide sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs and devices the federal government is not placing a "substantial burden" on the sisters' free exercise of religion.
The administration wants the court to force the sisters to cooperate with the government in ensuring that their employees are covered for abortion-inducing drugs and devices through the health-care plan the sisters' provide.
Abortion-inducing drugs and devices terminate innocent human lives.
"The Becket Fund is grateful that the Supreme Court has decided to weigh in on this important case," said Mark Rienzi, the lawyer for the fund who is handling the case. "The Little Sisters spend their lives taking care of the elderly poor--that is work our government should applaud, not punish.
"The Little Sisters should not have to fight their own governemnt to get an exemption it has already given to thousands of other employers, including Exxon, Pepsi Cola Bottling Company, and Boeing," said Rienzi. "Nor should the government be allowed to say that the sisters aren't 'religious enough; to merit the exemption that churches and other religious ministries have received."
Sister Loraine said: "As Little Sisters of the Poor, we offer the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they are welomces as Christ. We perform this loving ministry because of our faith and cannot possibly choose between our care for the elderly poor and our faith, and we shouldn't have to."