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!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Erin

    If prices were fair and just, we could complain about people not paying their way, etc. But in a healthcare and insurance system where the prices are not reasonable, not fair and not just, where prices are out of range of even hardworking educated middle class people, then we are talking about injustice that needs to be remedied, about many good people who have done nothing wrong who are being hurt, and even dying, or unnecessarily living with severe pain, because of the greed or imprudent practices of others… If we are really compassionate about others’ sufferings, as Jesus would have us be, then it should really bother us that we have a system where even people who have not done anything wrong, who have worked their whole lives, are suffering unjustly because of a situation that is unjust.
    I do believe that there is a right not to have healthcare entities and insurance companies gouge people, sending families to the poorhouse. And correct me if I’m wrong, but I have never seen any convincing evidence that costs need to be so high, especially given the bloated salaries and profits often found at the top.

  • Erin

    You know what? They don’t just need an exemption…because we in the US do not have our religious freedom by exemption,” or by accommodation. Freedom to live in accord with our religious beliefs is our RIGHT under the Constitution. And we Catholics who are actually faithful to those beliefs need to utterly rebel against this law. This should go all the way to the Supreme Court, and if the Court upholds the mandate, it still should not be complied with even so…because, as St Thomas Aquinas said, an unjust law is no law at all, but rather an act of violence. We are obligated to resist it.

    Nor should we close our institutions either. If the mandate is upheld, we should proceed as normal without complying, and without paying any fines either, and let them come and arrest all of us, sisters included. Then the American people will see what this Administration and its followers are actually about. We need to prepare ourselves for just this possibility, and prepare ourselves to suffer, because it could happen. The alternative is to betray the faith, and that is
    unacceptable. We need to see it in the light of eternity.

    If our Supreme Court thinks that even religious sisters are not religious enough to be “allowed” to have the religious freedom, then we can be sure that religious freedom is dead in this nation, and the rest of our freedoms will not live long after that.

    It would be great if the Administration gives an exemption, but, again, what is needed, and what is just, is not just an exemption. It is the utter destruction of this
    unconstitutional, tyrannical, unamerican mandate.

    We should all pray to St JeanneJugan (St Mary of the Cross) about this!

  • Jane the Actuary

    I am really getting increasingly discouraged by this. Various entities are suing, having the court rule against them, and throw up their hands: “what can we do? The consequences of not following the law would be too great. We’ll just have to provide the contraceptives.” — and I have no reason to believe the Sisters would do otherwise.

    At the same time, the Republicans are arguing over defunding but are not, and will not make any headway, and are not taking any steps towards a real meaningful solution. http://www.janetheactuary.blogspot.com/2013/09/ill-just-say-it-obamacare-will-collapse.html

  • Iris

    Obama and the majority of the government do not know God. Because they do not know him, they do not understand him or his ways. They do not know love or charity. One day their knee will bend. People are going to have to stand up for our Constitution before it is too late.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=657809232 Drew Riggio

    Cry me a river. These religious organizations want to break the law. Screw them. So what if they are charitable? They would not get to deny care to someone because that person is black or Jewish. They should not get to deny coverage to others who do not share their beliefs, either.

    So sick of religious groups expecting to be able to break the law and get away with it.

  • Haaser

    One would believe from this discussion that there is never a medical benefit to sterilization. The Catholic Church does not deny a woman the right to remove a diseased organ, so why deny the possibility of medical insurance to cover such a situation?


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