St.Thomas More, The Little Sisters of the Poor & the Casualness of Conscience

The Duke of Norfolk: “Oh confound all this. I’m not a scholar, I don’t know whether the marriage was lawful or not but – dammit, Thomas, look at these names! Why can’t you do as I did and come with us, for fellowship!”

Thomas More: “And when we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?”

- From Robert Bolt’s play, A Man For All Seasons

“Why can’t you do as I did, Thomas, and come with us?” Indeed, why not? It seemed foolish, in the eyes of the Duke of Norfolk (who was, after all, a friend and colleague of Thomas More’s in 1500s Tudor England) for such a brilliant and pragmatic man as Thomas More to jeopardize his prestige, his livelihood and perhaps his life all in the name of refusing to take a silly Oath. Why not, Thomas?

In 1534, King Henry VIII demanded all subjects serving in church or public office to swear an Oath of Supremacy recognizing him as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. The puppet British parliament hastily ratified the king’s intentions through the Act of Supremacy (recognizing the king as sole head of the English Church) and the Act of Succession (recognizing Anne Boleyn as Queen and her forthcoming child, Elizabeth, as the rightful heir to the crown). The Oath began,

“I (state your name) do utterly testifie and declare in my Conscience, that the Kings Highnesse is the onely Supreame Governour of this Realme, and all other his Highnesse Dominions and Countries, as well in all Spirituall or Ecclesiasticall things or causes…”

This Oath, by default, defiantly separated the Church of England from the Pope and the Holy Roman Catholic Church. From a practical standpoint, it freed the king from the permission needed to annul his marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon while empowering him to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn. And the punishment for failing to take the Oath – the Treason of not taking the Oath – was to be hanged, cut down while still alive, disemboweled, castrated, beheaded, quartered and displayed publicly to the abject humiliation of one’s friends and relations. It was quite simple, really. To be in the good graces of the king, you simply had to take the Oath. Surely, Thomas More, a retired Lord Chancellor, revered lawyer, man of letters and decent family man would not waver in signing such an Oath? Surely not?

And so, 480 years later, we find ourselves witnessing a not entirely dissimilar situation. The Little Sisters of the Poor began in 1839 when St. Jeanne Jugan carried a blind, paralyzed woman she found suffering alone in a cold winter street into her own home, placed the destitute woman in her own bed and began to care for her. Soon, additional neglected and infirm elderly women were brought to her doorstep while several fellow pious young women joined her in her efforts. They served these poor women. They gave them their own beds, while they slept in an uncomfortable attic. They begged on their behalf to spare the elder women such an indignity. Within thirteen years, they had formed a Congregation with Catholic diocesan recognition: “The Little Sisters of the Poor” were one hundred strong and growing. Powered by the Holy Spirit and the fervent desire to serve God and his people, the Little Sisters spread from country to country, finally arriving in America in 1868. In their 146 years in America, the Little Sisters have established 30 homes nationwide, all in the name of selflessly serving the elderly poor regardless of race, religion or gender.

Which brings us to the current, unwanted conflict. Humble and meek, selfless and serving…the Little Sisters of the Poor have never been the types to look for a clash – especially with the federal government. In fact, for years, this Congregation has been regarded as a beacon of light for the cast-offs, the untouchables and undesirables that the government has been self-admittedly incapable of and, frankly, often disinterested in “managing”. The Little Sisters are only too happy to do their part – their loving, holy and sacramental part. But there is one detail that, perhaps, was forgotten: The Little Sisters of the Poor are Catholic. And while they take on a charge that places no conditions on their love and devotion for the elderly poor, they themselves are inspired and enlivened by Catholic Truth. This means, quite simply, that there are certain things they morally cannot do.

The Health and Human Services Mandate (HHS Mandate) was issued by President Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (purportedly, a Catholic) requiring employee health insurance to universally provide oral contraceptive, sterilization and abortifacient coverage. The exemptions for those who have religious objections are exceedingly narrow so that religious universities (Catholic University of America, University of Notre Dame, Wheaton College, Belmont Abbey among others), religious broadcasting centers (EWTN), innumerable Catholic dioceses/archdioceses, religious organizations and orders (Priests For Life, Little Sisters of the Poor among others), for-profit businesses (Hobby Lobby, Doboszenski, among others) are NOT EXEMPT and spending countless dollars and hours in court to get injunctions to halt the mandate (to see a comprehensive list of groups and status of their lawsuit, see the Becket Fund’s HHS Information Central site). As the deadline for implementation approached, the courts heard cases, the affected parties pled for exemption and the federal government obfuscated with versions of “accommodations” which did anything but accommodate.

And so as the final deadline of January 1st, 2014 arrived, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor filed an injunction on behalf of Colorado’s Little Sisters of the Poor and awaited a government response as to why the injunction should be raised. The fine, incidentally, for not implementing the coverage of oral contraceptives, sterilizations and abortifacients is a crippling $100 per employee per day (translating to millions of dollars per year). The Administration’s anemic answer rebutting Sotomayor’s injunction was that the nuns could simply sign a form that ostensibly “absolves them” of responsibility for condoning the funding of these measures while then assigning the decision to a third-party who will then condone it for them. It seems to be argued, from the Government’s standpoint, that being one further step removed from sin makes the sin not sinful. At the height of haughty acerbicity, the Administration sniffed,

“With the stroke of their own pen…[the Sisters can] secure for themselves the relief they seek…”

Not to be outdone, Administration surrogate and ardent abortion proponent NARAL-Pro Choice America President Ilsye Hogue, intoned this bit of wisdom,

“The government is charged with enforcing a law. We all hate signing forms, believe me. I hate signing forms; we just bought a new house.”

Meanwhile, as the injunction holds and the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments this Spring on similar cases (Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius), the work of the Little Sisters goes on. While relieved by the temporary injunction, they realize the juggernaut with which they are contending: ideological government with the powers of the IRS. According to Denver Catholic Register writer, Karna Swanson, when Mother Patricia Mary at the Mullen Home for the Aged (run by the Little Sisters) was asked about next steps, she meekly replied,

 “At this point we are not saying anything. We are just kind of waiting … and continuing to work with the elderly.”

It seems that the dominating thoughts for the Little Sisters is to serve God, to serve their fellow man and woman while avoiding the trap found in the modern casualness of conscience. We live in a world keen on conveniently absolving sin when it is not empowered to do so. We live in a time arguing that our conscience is well-served simply if we feel good and our personal appetites are satisfied. Consequently, Conscience becomes rudderless as Truth is jettisoned. The Little Sisters will have none of this. As the Blessed Pope John Paul once admonished,

“Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

Ah, yes. That makes sense. Once again, the Duke of Norfolk asked Thomas More, “Why can’t you do as I did and come with us, for fellowship!” And More said, “And when we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?”. Thomas More would be isolated, imprisoned and beheaded (a merciful commutation, no doubt). At least in this modern day and age, The Little Sisters of the Poor can expect better treatment…or can they?

Please consider a donation to the tireless workers at the Little Sisters of the Poor and the intrepid lawyers at The Becket Fund. 

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  • Siobhán

    “We live in a world keen on conveniently absolving sin when it is not empowered to do so.”

    Very well put, sir!

  • alkeyes

    Tod Warner: The ultimate aim of the whole government takeover scheme is to make sure that God and all those truly faithful to His will are driven out, purged from political and social action, and eventually from life itself. (There’s a reason the rule of Marxist hardliners like Obama is identified with deadly mass purges and persecution.)

    Complicity in evil is not a side effect of their totalitarian schemes. It’s their true (i.e., spiritual) purpose. I keep praying that the Lord will work upon the hearts of more of my fellow Catholics so that they open their eyes to this fact. Your article should help in that regard. God Bless you for that.

    Alan Keyes

    • Touma

      Mr. Keyes,

      Which deadly purges have occurred under Mr. Obama? Please note, I am not defending him on this issue. I am not a Catholic, but I agree that Catholics should not be forced to do anything against their religious conscience. That being said, your over the top comment is an example of one of the things that continues to drive American discourse into the dirt.

      I understand that you are probably still angry about the 2004 Senate thing. However, someone of your political clout should be above making ludicrous statements such as trying to liken President Obama to Mao or Stalin.

      Instead, I recommend speaking passionately about your views, but with respect (Romans 12 & 13 come to mind).


      • alkeyes

        Only fools wait until the worst is upon them to think through the consequences of an evil principle. As Shakespeare wrote “things bad begun make strong themselves by ill.” And the whole history of hard line socialists like Obama, once they are confident of their power, (which he has, as yet, no reason to be) proves the point.

        Your abuse of the scripture reminds people of the people who criticized Martin Niehmoller for being uncharitable when he spoke out against Hitler in the early days of the Nazis’ march toward absolute power in the Third Reich, i.e,, when the public’s knowledge of Nazism was all about soup kitchens and jobs projects.

        You also write as if you think the coercion of conscience is somehow a venial atrocity. In fact, being coerced into complicity with evil is the most deeply personal atrocity committed against others by those who abuse power. It attacks a person’s soul and spirit, not just their livelihood or physical body.

        That’s why so many Americans of good faith resisted the Fugitive Slave Act, well before the issue of slavery sparked open warfare in America.

        I would suggest that, Instead of thinking up silly ad hominem remarks, your time would be better spent thinking through the implications of your cavalier attitude toward the degradation of good conscience. Most decent folks regard it as an assault on the very heart of human dignity. That’s why, push comes to shove, people have given and will give their lives rather than surrender to it.

        • Bill S

          Oh please. Don’t be such an alarmist and extremist. Have you even read the certification? All it says is that you cannot comply for religious reasons. You don’t even have to authorize a third party to provide the coverage (thereby facilitating someone else’s sinful behavior).

  • Margaret

    EXCELLENT piece but I wouldn’t list dioceses under “for-profit businesses.”

  • Sterling Ericsson

    It’s amazing how you can manage to twist wording.

    Here it is simply. If the nuns do not wish to pay for such coverage for their organization, all they have to do is sign a form saying they will not be paying for this coverage. This then allows their employees to go to a third party insurer for such coverage if they wish to have it.

    That sounds rather simple.

    Except the nuns don’t want to allow their employees access to any contraception coverage, even if it has nothing to do with them. So they are filing this lawsuit so that their employees won’t be able to obtain any contraception coverage whatsoever.

    • Morrie Chamberlain

      Some contraceptives cause abortion, sterilization is an affront to the Providence of a God. What if the form said that if for religious reasons you object to the killing of unwanted two year olds, then sign here and a third party will make arrangements with one of your nuns if they want to kill their two year old unwanted child. As a bonus the service would be free.

      • Sterling Ericsson

        Except not everyone is Christian and most people do not believe abortion is killing anyone, as most people don’t believe a fetus is a person, just a part of the mother’s body.

        Are you saying that you should be able to both control what other people believe, but also their actions? What happened to religious freedom?

        • djkosmic

          most people actually don’t believe anything or on the other hand as Dostoevsky averred “When you cease to believe in God you’ll believe in anything” which is pretty much the same thing. = you say = nothing!

        • Morrie Chamberlain

          Most people at some point believed that slavery was OK. Most German were convinced that Jews were not human. So your argument on the rightness of something is based on the power of the majority to impose its will not on the actual rightness of the thing.

          Who is trying to control who? Before Obamacare, the government did not feel the need to control what type, if any insurance, Americans would have to buy. Now the government is forcing companies and individuals to buy something. That something must include free contraceptive and sterilization services.

          • Sterling Ericsson

            I was actually arguing more on a “rightness of something has nothing to do with religion” side of things, since pretty much everything bad in the world can be attributed to religion and most of it to Christianity at that.

            Nazi Germany is actually a good example, thank you for bringing it up. The Nazis considered themselves not only ethnically superior to Jews and other groups, but also religiously superior. The Christian churchs in Germany at the time played a large part in the activities of the Nazis.

            Of course, Christianity in Nazi Germany was a lot more complicated than that and Hitler didn’t help make it any less complicated. He was a man that said “I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so” and “Christianity is a rebellion against natural law, a protest against nature. Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure”, so who knows what was really going on with him. However, that doesn’t change the fact that Christianity was nevertheless heavily used by Hitler and the people firmly believed in the Christian right to subjugate all other peoples.

            Anyways, in regards to Obamacare, you’re going to have to explain your point further. Just because it is covered by insurance doesn’t mean it has to be used. No one has to use the contraceptive or vasectomy parts of the coverage. The fact that it is covered doesn’t force anyone to use it, it just allows those who do wish to use it to do so.

            Why are you against allowing those who wish to use such things using them? Are you trying to control their actions?

          • RuariJM

            Ah – the old “Hitler was a Catholic” canard. Well, one can go through all the arguments, debate whether his actions excommunicated him latae sentiae and engage in the usual time-consuming explanations in an effort to persuade you and maybe help you to understand, or one can take the C S Lewis – Ransom approach and simply call you out as a BS merchant.

            I’m assuming you are intelligent enough to know your own mind and to be fully aware that you are talking crap. Clearly, you loathe the Catholic Church and no debate, argument or discussion will persuade you otherwise. Not today, at least. I have better things to do with your time. You know what you are, and so do I.

          • Sterling Ericsson

            You did notice that I specifically pointed out that Hitler’s statements on the topic were notoriously contradictory, so whether he indeed could be considered a Catholic or even considered himself as one is more or less impossible to discern, right?

            But the important part of my comment was that regardless of his personal beliefs, it is a fact that he used the Catholic church and its deep ties to the German people to facilitate the idea of the Aryan race. And the church in Germany went along with it completely; the people of Germany fully thinking that Christian Germans are naturally superior to all others both religiously and ethnically.

          • RuariJM

            Bollix. You demonstrate clearly that your knowledge of the Nazi period is second hand, superficial propaganda, which you do not seem to have the skills to effectively analyse.

            In short, you swallow the BS you are fed wholesale. Lenin’s description of people like you was pithy and accurate: useful idiots.

          • Sterling Ericsson

            You’re not very good at this arguing thing, are you? You keep making claims, but you never give specific examples or evidence to back them up.

            What exactly is wrong with what I stated about Nazi Germany?

          • RuariJM

            Do you know someone who styles himself ‘erzengle’? He’s another lonely person who uses trolling to try and strike up conversations – even an argument is better than being ignored, right?

            If you want company, seek him out.

          • erzengle

            Seek and ye shall find. And there was me thinking you did not care. You really are bitter aren’t you. Please do not project your symptoms onto me. Your posts are far more numerous than mine — and I am the lonely one?

          • RuariJM

            Enjoy yourselves, boys.

          • radiofreerome

            He cited direct quotes. You cited nothing.

          • RuariJM

            Really? I must have missed them in the miasma of BS such as Hitler and the Nazis using Christianity to further their aims.

            If you – and he – actually knew about the period you would realise that he used pagan rituals, Roman Imperial spectacle, Pavlovian psychology (paradoxically) and emerging marketing techniques, as well as militaristic display and street fighting. And extreme nationalism, of course.

            The Catholic Party was part of the opposition. Cardinal Roncali – later John XXIII – warned the Vatican about the paganism of Nazism. The politics, brutality and anti-Christian nature of the Nazi government was specifically denounced in a Papal encyclical smuggled into Germany and read from the pulpits at Sunday mass.

            You are allowing your bigotry to get in the way of reality. But there is still hope for you, if you take the time to investigate the history of the period dispassionately.

          • radiofreerome

            Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (to become Pius XII) sold the Jews into the death camps in the concordat he brokered between with Hitler and the Vatican. That document gave Hitler permission in writing to do whatever he wanted with Jews who had not converted to Catholicism in exchange for “protecting” Jewish converts. Pacelli may not have been Hitler’s pope, but he was undeniably Hitler’s cardinal.

          • RuariJM

            Could you do us the favour of reproducing the precise clauses of the Concordat that gave such permissions and the quid pro quo you claim?

          • radiofreerome

            What do you call a Catholic who lies to defend the Church? A Liar.

          • Morrie Chamberlain

            “Everything bad is contributable to Christianity” like the fact that Christians rescued Roman infants left out in the elements to die, like women were given equal dignity before God, slaves were to be treated like brothers, we are to love our enemies, hospitals were established by nuns, the university system was established from which sprang natural philosophy and later the scientific method (Mendel, Copernicus, on and on), orphanages were established and today Christians (including the nuns in this article) serve the poor, the sick, and lonely by the millions.

            So the government should force Jewish deli owners to provide pork sandwiches? After all the deli might employ non Jews and lots of people want pork sandwiches.

            Contraception and abortion are not about health. It is all about those in secular society pushing a consequent free sexual standard and now using the power of the state to control and impose its will on others. The courts have almost always upheld the the right of religious freedom. Don’t be surprised when they strike down the contraceptive mandate.

          • Sterling Ericsson

            Are you trying to argue that the existence of good actions outweigh bad? How exactly is that quantified?

            As for your deli analogy, i’m trying to decide if it falls under the red herring fallacy or just the simple false analogy fallacy. Either way, your comparison is irrelevant to the topic at hand. Having insurance companies have to provide a baseline of coverage is not forcing them to make any sort of ethnically inappropriate choice, if for the mere fact that insurance companies aren’t people (no matter what certain parts of the law might say), and that no one has to use those parts of the coverage.

            Actually, proper coverage is exactly about health. Under the type of insurance you think should be given out, a woman who has complications in her pregnancy and must undergo an emergency abortion procedure to save her life would not be covered under her insurance.

            Furthermore, female contraceptives have a large number of health benefits. A short list of such includes protecting against “dysmenorrhea and menorrhagia, menstrual cycle irregularities, iron deficiency anemia, ectopic pregnancy, pelvic inflammatory disease, ovarian cysts, benign breast disease, endometrial cancer, and ovarian cancer”

          • I Dominguez-Urban

            I agree with your first paragraph. However, the second paragraph mischaracterizes the situation. The real situation would be one where the government requires all employers to provide pork to their employees or face a fine. Jewish deli owners object. The government has provided an exemption on this requirement to Jewish deli owners. It has also provided for any employee of a Jewish Deli who wants pork, to get government subsidized pork. All the Jewish Deli owners have to do is certify that they qualify for the exemption, that they object to pork eating for religious reasons and they will not be providing pork to their employees.

        • RuariJM

          I suspect that everyone in the Little Sisters of the Poor is indeed Christian – specifically, Catholic. I might be wrong, of course, but I see no evidence to the contrary.

      • BT

        Which ones are you referring to? There is a lot of misleading info out there on this.

      • Bill S

        “What if the form said that if for religious reasons you object to the killing of unwanted two year olds”

        But it doesn’t, does it. It gives employees the option of using the coverage or not using the coverage. Much like the way God has given us the option to love and obey him or not. It’s called “free will”. Why should an employer deny its employees of the free will in a matter that is none of the employer’s business?

  • Lyndon A. Acosta

    Pope Francis is right were now starting to see the fight against religion. Obama, the socialists. the left, the democrats and feminists are the forerunners of the coming of the anti-christ.

    • Sterling Ericsson

      It seems to me more that you’re trying to restrict the beliefs of people who either aren’t Christian or don’t hold the specific religious beliefs that you do.

      • RuariJM

        Actually, Sterling, I gained the impression that he thought the only anti-religious groups and forces are supposedly on the Left.

        As for ‘restricting beliefs…’ I think maybe you should go back and read the article again. If you find a passage where the Little sisters of the Poor are imposing their beliefs in this specific HHS mandate upon OTHERS, please quote it for me. Because I missed it.

        Here’s a bit that might be relevant, though:

        “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

        • Sterling Ericsson

          What they are trying to do is make it so that they can refuse to have to pay to cover contraception with a religious exemption, which is something they can do anyways, but also make it so that their employees aren’t allowed to go to the outside insurance company for the coverage.

          They are claiming that signing the form, which means they opt out entirely on that coverage, is somehow infringing on their beliefs by then allowing their employees to seek the coverage themselves.

          All they are trying to do is restrain their employees so that they don’t have the option to seek such insurance. They are purposefully using their beliefs to try and impose upon the actions of their employees.

          • RuariJM

            Well, that is a rich load of BS, coming from one who goes so far as to post on a religious site in order to impose his beliefs on others.

            You’re pretty close to a walking definition of bigot.

          • Sterling Ericsson

            I see you don’t bother explaining how exactly what I said was BS, nor how I am imposing my beliefs on you by mere arguing and discussion.

            Which means you’re just employing ad hominems at this point.

          • RuariJM

            Your arguments are tortuous and pointless, circular and exhibit all the intellectual rigour of the guys in Life of Brian who, when told to ‘get lost’ replied: “How shall we **** off Lord?”

    • radiofreerome

      Benedict XVI was the anti-christ. He just wasn’t very competent.

    • RuariJM

      Lyndon, if you focus your attention in just one sectarian direction, you will miss the attackers creeping up behind you. Like the guy trying to hold the Church to ransom because he doesn’t like Pope Francis denouncing the injustices of capitalism.

    • ginalex

      or it could be that your side is just whiney because you see that you will no longer always get your way.

  • Mack

    Yes, Sterling, “for fellowship.”

  • Shaun G. Lynch

    “And so, 480 years later, we find ourselves witnessing a not entirely dissimilar situation.”

    In fact, this IS an ENTIRELY dissimilar situation! The comparison to St. Thomas More’s refusal to recognize Henry VIII as supreme head of the English Christian church is ridiculous in the extreme.

    The Little Sisters of the Poor are in no way, shape or form being asked to sign anything that condones contraception. To suggest that such is the case is to practice either ignorance or dishonesty: you either know full well that the arguments you present are spurious and incomplete, or you haven’t bothered to examine the case in detail.

    The form the Little Sisters would have to sign simply acknowledges that THEY are not required to provide insurance that allows for coverage for contraceptives. It stretches credulity far beyond the breaking point to suggest that signing such a document implies tacit support for contraception.

    Not only that, but signing the exemption won’t even lead to the Little Sisters’ employees getting access to coverage from the the Sisters’ insurer, Christian Brothers Employee Benefits Trust, because THEY ARE ALSO EXEMPT from the mandate! That’s because their health plan isn’t governed by
    ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act ), the federal law under which the mandate is imposed.

    So, in the end, what the Little Sisters of the Poor are trying to do is to prevent their ADULT employees from exercising their own judgement with regard to contraception. If they are straight-arrow, obedient Catholics, they will never exercise that right anyway; if they DO choose to exercise that right, they will be exercising their own discernment and free will, knowing full well that they are engaging in an action that is forbidden by their Church.

    And if they’re not Catholic, they should be free to make whatever choices they want in the light of their own convictions.

    Bottom line: there’s absolutely NO attack on Catholic values and practices in play here.

    • erin

      “The form the Little Sisters would have to sign simply acknowledges that THEY are not required to provide insurance that allows for coverage for contraceptives. It stretches credulity far beyond the breaking point to suggest that signing such a document implies tacit support for contraception.”

      Actually, no, it doesn’t stretch credulity. If you sign a form acknowledging your insurance carrier will “provide” the objectionable drugs to your employees, and not you, and yet you still pay for the insurance coverage, only a sophist charlatan thinks it makes any moral difference.

      “So, in the end, what the Little Sisters of the Poor are trying to do is to prevent their ADULT employees from exercising their own judgement with regard to contraception.”

      Actually, no, they are not preventing their employees from anything; what that ARE saying is that THEY WON’T PAY for something illicit in which their employees may want to take part. Refusal to see such a distinction, and to twist it around to something being denied, as you have (because of course, employees can do whatever they want with their own money), reveals an animus toward the morality, or perhaps simply an ability to think this argument through logically.

      “Bottom line: there’s absolutely NO attack on Catholic values and practices in play here.”

      You are incorrect, sir. See above.

      • ernestmiller

        You miss Shaun Lynch’s most important point. Even if the Little Sisters sign the document, their insurer or third-party administrator (TPA) is also exempt from the requirement. This is the government’s argument in their reply brief. Please explain how the government retains the ability to force someone to pay for the contraceptive coverage in this case. If you are unable, I fail to see the attack on Catholic values.

        • Jen G.

          Technically the Christian Bros are not exempt, they simply fall into a loophole that the government has yet to rectify. Other courts involving the exact same circumstances granted permanent injunctions.
          I don’t quite get how anyone can give credence to the government’s basic argument (and many of the objector’s argument) that the nuns aren’t really violating their conscience. Surely the only person who can determine whether or not an action (or inaction) violates their conscience is the person required to perform the action. If the courts decide based on this then they are, essentially, declaring what is or is not correct theology.
          The only matter the courts can decide while not imposing on the content of a person’s faith is 1. whether there is a substantial burden on the person to violate their faith (crippling fines in this case would say ‘yes’) and 2. whether the government’s compelling interest trumps that violation. The latter is really what all these cases will hinge on – not on whether you or the federal government know better than a group of nuns what violates their own conscience. 19 of 20 courts have grasped this distinction. The only one that has stood has been Notre Dam – and the college probably could have made it unanimous if they hadn’t decided to basically punt and wait for the other cases to be decided.

          • ernestmiller

            So you agree. When the gov’t “rectifies” the “loophole” then we can return to this argument. Until then there is no issue.

            As for the injunctions – they’re essentially meaningless. They’re mere placeholders until the actual court decisions.

            As for violating conscience … It is all but irrelevant. It is the gov’t interest that is the issue and whether there is a substantial burden. If we simply accept the claimant’s position then it becomes very hard to have gov’t at all.

      • Shaun G. Lynch

        “…what that ARE saying is that THEY WON’T PAY for something illicit in which their employees may want to take part. ”

        Erin, the whole point to the exemption is that the Little Sisters of the Poor WON’T BE PAYING FOR THAT COVERAGE. And, in any event, their insurers DON’T PROVIDE THAT COVERAGE. So the nuns are being asked to sign a form that says that they refuse to do what they were never going to have to do in the first place.

        While it is true that the coverage in question will be provided by others (ultimately paid by the government, as i understand it), that isn’t the Little Sisters’ problem. The ACA requires that the coverage in question be provided to everyone, one way or another. The compromise allows faith-based groups that object to the coverage to avoid having to pay for it, but groups like the Little Sisters cannot reasonably prevent their employees from having access to the coverage if it is being paid for by others.

        Ultimately, it is up to the Catholic Church to provide its adherents with sufficiently convincing arguments that they will voluntarily choose not to use birth control. This is something the Church in North American has utterly failed to do. In that context, the sophistry being practiced by the Little Sisters of the Poor and their legal representatives appears to be an attempt to block their employees’ exercise of free will, effectively acknowledging that moral suasion will have no effect.

    • J_Bob

      If the people have the right of “free exercise of religion”, as noted in the Constitution, why must the nuns sign anything?

      Seems like the thumbscrews turn slowly, but surly.

      • Shaun G. Lynch

        The nuns’ right to exercise their religion is not being infringed in any way. In fact, it’s being protected!

        All they’re being asked to do is to acknowledge that their refusal to pay for one particular element of insurance coverage is motivated by their religious convictions. Put differently, an organization can’t decide it doesn’t want to pay for a particular element of mandated healthcare insurance coverage on a whim; the ONLY acceptable justification is that the organization is exercising its constitutional right to freely exercise its religion. It is absolutely reasonable for the government to ask the organization to formally indicate that it is choosing to do so.

        What I find infuriating in this whole debate is that, ultimately, it undermines everything we are trying to do on behalf of the Catholic Church. At the same time as we’re trying to bring the vast majority of Catholics — the non-practicing ones — back into the fold, arguments like this send the the message that the Catholic Church is dominated by rigid, doctrinaire extremists who will only welcome back those who absolutely and unconditionally accept every single element of Catholic belief and practice, without exception or qualification.

        I repeat, the requirement that the Little Sisters of the Poor formally acknowledge their decision not to fund insurance coverage for contraception is in no way, shape or form an infringement of their right to free exercise of our religion; it constitutes PROTECTION of that right!

        Can we PLEASE stop engaging in these ridiculous, quixotic escapades that serve only to undermine our larger and more urgent objectives as a Church?!

        • Manny

          No it’s not. They are being forced to be the intermediary of sin, grave sin. It’s like being a pimp. You’re engaging in the sin, but you’re supplying it.

  • ahermit

    This is so absurd; all that is required here is a formal affirmation of faith and the Sisters are exempted from the mandate. That cannot be an imposition on their conscience to ask them to affirm their faith…

    • 57nomad

      This is so absurd. The law is a direct violation of the 1st Amendment and no appeal to the government, including declarations formal or informal, is required; the sisters need not obey. The law is tyranny on the face of it.

      • Sterling Ericsson

        How is any of it a violation of the 1st Amendment? Unless you mean offering the religious exemption is a violation, which I can understand that argument to some extent. But I think of the exemption more as allowing religious groups to stay separate from government than anything else.

        • 57nomad

          Well, here is the 1st Amendment:

          “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
          prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
          speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
          assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

          Requiring the sisters to sign anything is a restriction on their freedom of religion.

          • ahermit

            Look, if they want to be exempted from something on religious grounds it’s not unreasonable to ask them to actually say they object on religious grounds. That’s all they are being asked to do. This in no way restricts their free exercise of their faith.

          • 57nomad

            They took the government to the Supreme Court, does that count as saying they object?

          • Sterling Ericsson

            They can say they object all they want, that doesn’t mean their faith is in any way being restricted or infringed upon.

            Please, do explain how a religious exemption violates the 1st Amendment.

      • ahermit

        It’s no different form my Mennonite relatives having to formally declare their religious objection to military service in order to be exempted from the draft in the past.

        Declaring your faith is not a violation of conscience. It’s absurd…

  • radicalrevelation

    This is a hard issue, and I struggle with it.

    I wonder if we, as Christians, have been duped into believing that being ‘pro-life’ equates entirely into being ‘anti-abortion.’ It seems that we are asked to offer nothing but critique for women suffering a terrible trauma. We are not asked to offer aid, or comfort, or assistance – only condemnation. Is that Christian?

    Yet the Church has always been ‘pro-life,’ – with stories of Christians rescuing babies from exposure in the early centuries of the Church (!)

    Are the Little Sisters ‘absolved’ by signing a form? Are they made innocent by paying the fine?

    Are they even involved – truly – in a decision made by someone else, somewhere else, for which they have no knowledge or control?

    A hard issue, with no easy answers.

    • James Stevenson

      My understanding of this, is that they’re objecting to signing the form as they are morally complicit in the third party (the outside insurance company) being involved in the illicit act of providing contraception because their refusal enables the company to do that in their stead.

      To me that seems a bit too far. Are your morally complicit, then, if you sign an objection to fighting a war, because if you do so someone else will be sent in your place? I can sort of see where they’re coming from, but the outcome basically means that the sisters force their religious views on those who want to use the outside insurance company. The only real valid compromise is that they sign the form objecting to paying and let people move on from there as they see fit.

      The whole ‘if I sign this the other side is complicit by my refusal’ applies to pretty much anything if you accept it. Because I seriously don’t see how you reconcile that view with the war example I posited above.

      TLDR: I don’t accept the sisters argument as it goes against any standard of responsibility. They’re basically saying their actions make them responsible for the actions of anyone else after the fact. But if that’s the case you can extend that to wages, if you believe that people can just buy it with their own money. Are business not complicit by that fact as well? The buck needs to stop somewhere on that front.

      • roger

        I am not Roman Catholic, but in my 70 years of life, I have always understood that the Catholic church has consistently and historically held a moral objection to contraception. I understand that and appreciate it for what it is. . . a longstanding, deeply held, religious value. And I understand the church’s, and the Little Sisters’, and the author’s objection.
        Here is my take on much of the discussion above (and the author’s validity in linking Sir Thomas More and the Little Sisters): I see the Duke of Norfolk rationalizing why it is acceptable for More to sign off. I see More saying, “I have a problem with the whole issue, and by signing off, it may imply to the masses that I don’t have a problem, even if I can – in some convoluted way – rationalize it to myself. And, I can’t. And, I won’t because it doesn’t feel good.”
        I can imagine and respect the same words out of the mouths of the Little Sisters (and out of the Quakers on the issue of war/killing).
        So, we can debate until hell freezes over about how we could rationalize why the Little Sisters should feel good about signing off, but if it doesn’t feel good (morally) to them, then our attempt at imposition of our value set on them is identical to the Duke’s attempt with Sir Thomas More, and will result in the same outcome. . . as it should.

        • I Dominguez-Urban

          Sir Thomas More was not reacting on a gut level sense of “it doesn’t feel good.” Everything he did he did through “Reason” and, like the Catholic Church, More believed that God had given man Reason to be exercised.

          The situation were more akin to one where Henry VIII had given an exemption to retired Church officials and what the form said is “I, Thomas More, have familiarized myself with the terms of the exemption and I hereby certify that I qualify for this exemption. I will not sign the document of Supremacy. I will, however, deliver all official government notices to my employees.”

  • Bill S

    Here is the wording of a typical certification:

    By signing this Certification, the organization named below:
    (1) certifies that it has reviewed the requirements to qualify for the religious employer exemption(s) to coverage of contraceptive services under applicable state and federal law, including but not limited to PPACA, and has sought the advice of its legal advisor or benefit consultant, if necessary,
    (2) certifies that it is a religious employer that is exempt from covering contraceptive services under applicable state and federal law, including but not limited to PPACA,
    (3) directs UnitedHealthcare to exclude coverage for contraceptive services from the plan administered by UnitedHealthcare on behalf of the organization,
    (4) certifies that it will provide to its group health plan enrollees and prospective enrollees such notices as may be required by applicable law regarding exclusion of contraceptive coverage under its plan,
    (5) acknowledges its responsibility to comply with all requirements under applicable state and federal law for assessing and maintaining its exempt religious employer status, and
    (6) agrees to notify UnitedHealthcare at least 30 days in advance of any change that causes its exempt religious employer status to end.

    It is no Oath of Supremacy by any stretch of the imagination.

  • Y. A. Warren

    There is absolutely no medical intervention that doesn’t interfere with “God’s” will.

    If as much passion and effort were put into stopping war that kills whole families and the “fertility” clinics that create designer babies, leaving many “unborn babies” in freezers, we may be able to discuss “Thou shalt not kill” intelligently.

  • Y. A. Warren

    I suspect that the Little sisters of the Poor are funding some of their efforts with tax dollars. This should make them subject to the law of the land from whom they accept funding.

  • Bill S

    Disregard my last post. That was for the exemption. This is for the accommodation.

    I certify that, on account of religious objections, the organization opposes providing coverage for some or all of any contraceptive services that would otherwise be required to be covered; the organization is organized and operates as a nonprofit entity; and the organization holds itself out as a religious organization.
    Note: An organization that offers coverage through the same group health plan as a religious employer (as defined in 45 CFR 147.131(a)) and/or an eligible organization (as defined in 26 CFR 54.9815-2713A(a); 29 CFR 2590.715-2713A(a); 45 CFR 147.131(b)), and that is part of the same controlled group of corporations as, or under common control with, such employer and/or organization (within the meaning of section 52(a) or (b) of the Internal Revenue Code), may certify that it holds itself out as a religious organization.
    I declare that I have made this certification, and that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, it is true and correct. I also declare that this certification is complete.

  • Jen G.

    Many of the commentators here saying the sisters should ‘just sign the form’ don’t seem to understand the nature of the form they are asked to sign. The form is not simply an ‘opt out’ that takes the matter out of their hands (as forms for opting out of the draft for religious reasons do). The form does the following once you parse through all the regs:
    1. States that they have an objection to providing contraception either in total or for certain types only (so far no problem)
    2. Designates a TPA who is explicitly authorized and obligated under federal regulation to provide the contraception on their behalf
    3. Prohibits them from speaking to or influencing the TPA in any way with regards to whether or not they provide contraception (like, say, by threatening to switch to a TPA who won’t provide it)
    It is the authorization and obligation part of the form’s effect that causes some to feel morally complicit in providing contraception. If I refuse to do something, but then obligate someone else to do it on my behalf under certain moral reasoning I am still sinning. Those commentators who wish the sisters to sign the form may not agree with this moral reasoning – that is according to their conscience. However, freedom of religion means that the sisters are the one’s empowered with the right to determine whether or not they would consider themselves complicit in sin according to that line of reasoning – not you and certainly NOT the government.
    The courts shouldn’t be deciding whether or no the sisters’ conscience is being violated (and so far most have followed that rule). They should solely be deciding 1. whether the government is asserting pressure on them to violate their conscience as they define it. 2. whether the government’s has a sufficiently compelling interest and is using the least burdensome method to further it. Point one is inarguably ‘yes’ in tis circumstance but those who wish the HHS mandate to stand may still find the courts rule in their favor under the 2nd point.

    • Shaun G. Lynch

      Bill S. has reproduced some of the original text of the form under discussion here, and the element to which you object is nowhere in evidence there. Do you have access to the specific text, and can you post it here?