Bad Optics: Obama and HHS vs Little Sisters of the Poor

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The Little Sisters of the Poor are heroic social servants: they serve the indigent poor and go begging on their behalf. They are tremendous women offering companionship, love and hospitality to people who often have no one else in their lives willing to see and affirm their dignity and worth, and they don’t ask “are you a Catholic” before they make that offer: it is for all.

Likewise, in their many facilities across the nation, the Little Sisters employ nurses, and aides and helpers, and they do not ask, “are you a Catholic” before they hire them.

And because the Sisters do not discriminate in their service or their hiring, they, and their ministry, and the aged population they serve, are all being imperiled by the United States Government, specifically by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Obama Administration.

How can that be? How can these religious Sisters, living in a country where the first amendment to its constitution insists upon a free expression of religion and the exercise thereof be in peril? Because the HHS and the Obama Administration have written one of the strangest laws imaginable, a law that says if a church-related organization serves or hires people outside of its religion — in other words, if they do not discriminate against others — then they are not “religious enough” to claim the primacy of a religious conscience over a government mandate.

So, if the Sisters do not deny their own consciences and offer insurance policies to their employees that include free coverage for sterilization procedures, artificial contraceptives and abortifacients, these vowed-to-poverty women will have to pay more than a million dollars in IRS fines, effectively making their work near-to-impossible.

Yes, they’ll be punished and perhaps driven from serving the poor in America — the poor of every race and creed — for the sin of not prostrating themselves before a secularist culture that has made an idol of preventing the conception and growth of human life — a strange god endowed with so much power that the government believes it can and must stomp on fundamental human freedoms of conscience in order to serve it.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor, in an effort to protect their freedoms and win an exemption from this government, so they can continue to serve the poor in America.

Catholic religious sisters more or less created the idea of social service networks; often in the face of resistance, they organized to meet the healthcare and educational needs of the poor and the abandoned long before government began to even think of it. Whoever would have believed that in America, they might be fined out-of-existence rather than freed to operate and assist. The Little Sisters of the Poor are precisely the sort of religious sisters that are held up, and should be held up, as innovators and heroes of faith, and models of good citizenship.

But that’s not happening.

I happen to know that the Little Sisters did not want to pursue this lawsuit; they had hoped to simply get an exemption and get back to their work, because public talk of the HHS Mandate and its ruinous effects on their residences was creating awful anxiety for their residents, and they couldn’t bear to see them so worried. That they are now moving forward through the Becket Fund, and thus going public, is a measure of how deeply committed they are to not abandoning their people.

Really, what is the Obama Administration thinking? What is the HHS thinking? Do they really want these optics? The intrusive, overbearing the government forcing dedicated sisters to abandon their work with the elderly and the poor?

The Little Sisters of the Poor should be extolled as role models, and encouraged — not punished — by the government. They are too busy begging for food and material sustenance for their clients to travel about on a comfortable bus and raise awareness (and wouldn’t it be wonderful if whoever funded those bus treks for other sisters would be as generous to them?) so we must.

Please, send this around. Let your friends and co-workers and your email lists know that the Little Sister of the Poor do important necessary work toward raising up the Kingdom; they serve everyone, not just Catholics, and they ought not be fined for that. Urge everyone you know to call their congressional representatives, imploring them to petition the Obama Administration for an exemption on their behalf.

And if you want, send a note of encouragement to the Sisters at a residence near you. I’m sure they would appreciate knowing that they are not alone in their fight. I’m going to drop a card to my gals in Queens today — along with a little check — because they actually, really are poor; they really do give everything they have to the effort of serving their clients.

You know…they do the “brothers keeper” thing Obama keeps talking about. Maybe he only means that when its about taxes and government programs, and not real, human outreach within communities.

UPDATE:
By coincidence,
Catholic Digest has a look at the Little Sisters.

Also, I had no idea that as I was writing on this, Hot Air had beat me to it. Good! Let’s get the word out!

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