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.

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
  • Brian English

    “Really, what is the Obama Administration thinking? What is the HHS thinking? Do they really want these optics: the government forcing dedicated sisters to abandon their work with the elderly and the poor?”
    They don’t care. The MSM will bury the story for them, so there will be no consequences (at least in this world).

  • faithandfamilyfirst

    Yes, the story will be buried. There will be no consequences for this administration. They are relentless in their drive to destroy any and all private assistance programs. That’s what government is for. Sickening.

  • Elizabeth

    The administration will blame the sisters for obsessing about contraception instead of being reasonable. They will be accused of abandoning those who depend upon them.

    Sending a note and a check.

  • Romulus

    Destroy the possibility of charity, so that government is our only hope. That’s what he wants. It’s demonic.

  • Sarahb

    And here is a prime example of why healthcare should be no longer tied to employment. Why should the Sisters mission be diluted by this requirement? Rather than argue about what we should require of them, let’s discuss personal responsibility in healthcare and then watch what happens. Let’s make others pay for their own decisions – then watch!!!

  • elvez

    is civil disobedience not an option? why not just keep doing what they’re doing and let the govt impose the fine? the sisters have no property anyway, right?

  • Manny

    Oh that video was moving. I’m going to send them a donation. Do you think Obama and Sebelius would be shamed? Nah. Souless bureaucracy over charity at all cost.

  • Manny

    Yes, I was thinking along the same lines. The only charity they understand is taking from someone to give to someone else. What they can’t comprehend (or perhaps they do) is that in the act of taking, you are not engendering love but actually quite the opposite.

  • Jacob Suggs

    I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what happens if the courts don’t help them out beforehand. But if the problem can be solved before it comes to that, so much the better.

    Unfortunately, I’m not terribly optimistic any more.

  • Joe Washingtoncatholic

    Any Catholic, who voted for Obama, should be ashamed of themselves for what they have done. But I suspect they will never be ashamed, only proud, because they have done what they can to bring down the Church and make it into their own image.

  • FatherMapple

    I’m not part of the organization, just a law student waiting on bar exam results. Most likely, the sisters will have property belonging to the organization and not themselves being used to care for people, held in either a charitable trust or a charitable non-profit. They have to employ the non-sisters who do things for them, so they have money coming from somewhere, even if it’s just to pay the electricity bill and all the materials and goods they have are donated. Companies don’t donate their electricity too often.

    So, what would happen is the government would assess the fine, wait until the corporation (since every non-profit is a corporation, just non-profit) has to file their taxes for the year (even if they’re non-profit they have to file), and when the Sisters don’t pay, they’ll foreclose on the buildings, real estate, equipment inside, etc., to shut them down. Same as if you didn’t pay your house or property taxes, but this is a fine that gets rolled into the same kind of process since it’s the federal government, and taxes/fines come before any other creditor or debtor (which the Sisters probably don’t have any of).

  • freddy

    I’m not sure what you mean by “Let’s make others pay for their own decisions….”
    For example, it was not my “decision” to get cancer at age 46, yet without insurance we could never have afforded treatment. Someone out of work, or working a low paying job should have access to the same level of care I had, and I’m willing to pay what I can, either in taxes, insurance premiums or donations to make sure they can. Don’t get me wrong; Obamacare is evil, and our current system is a mess, but the message of the Little Sisters of the Poor doesn’t seem to me to be “…make others pay for their own decisions….”

  • Danielck

    Does this remind anyone of Russian and many countries in Europe in the early 1920′s when communism was beginning to destroy everything good? Am I saying that Obama and others in the government are attempting to turn the U.S. into a communist state (if they have not already done so)? Yes.

  • Nash Horne

    When do these penalties go into effect?

  • Ron

    If they tell you to do something that is a violation of conscience, do not obey. They will tell you to pay a fine. Refuse to pay it as it is unjust. They will throw you in jail. It will then be clear that their authority rests in the fact that they have guns, not consent. Some will see this and wake up….

    Civil disobedience a la Ghandi.

  • Norman

    True, but we can make a difference, we can make that change. The media not reporting something has no bearing on our ability to do so, it’s really not all that far off that enough people who read this and talk about it wither others, could be more that watches MSNBC shows (they’re ratings are surprising- I’m like “you can get a show with that amount of people watching it???? How do they make any money???”)
    The President told people during his campaign that when it came to people his supporters disagreed with to “get in their face”, we need to do no such thing; we can engauge without getting in people faces, we can do it with our mind and the faculties God gave us, we have the ability to make the truth look attractive.
    The Church is Jesus Christ’s representation on earth and the word Church does not mean “a building”, it’s a convocation of people. If Elizabeth Scalia is a part of that convocation, she is doing what she can and now we must as well. Quite frankly, if forwarding this link to people is considered a task too great, if discussing this with people we know has become too much, then we need to realize love is not just verbal support, it’s action as well, it’s engaging as Christ has been with us, and we must for Christ. No, Christ didn’t tell us what we wanted to hear, that everyone can get whatever they want and everything will be ok, but He told us the truth.
    As the quote goes– Evil thrives when good people do nothing!!!.

  • MrBultitude

    You’re forgetting that it is not the job of compassionate religious orders, or even private citizens, to care for the poor, the sick, the elderly and the starving. That job belongs to the all-wise, all-knowing, all-loving state. If we just trust it, it will take care of everyone and everything. Just relax, don’t fight it. It will all be over soon. Don’t worry, they’re from the government and they’re here to help.

  • Brian English

    Obama is counting on the Church leadership not having the stomach for anything beyond litigation. If the lawsuits fail, they can throw up their hands and say “We tried”, and then conform to the mandate.
    What they should do is have the Sisters refuse to leave their buildings after they are seized by the government. Video and photos of Federal Marshals carrying Sisters out of the buildings and depositing them in the streets might resonate with people, even in this secular age.

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    But look at all the exemptions Friends of Barak have received. Look at how the pols in Washington are protecting themselves and all their staffs from the laws insanity. All power to the state!!!

  • The Sanity Inspector

    Classic case of government as a disease, masquerading as its own cure.

  • NewCatholic08

    “free coverage” WOW finally a free lunch.

  • Brian English

    I agree. As I indicate in response to a comment below, I think the Sisters being carried out after the IRS seizes their buildings would be a story most people could not ignore. However, I just do not think the Church leadership will pursue that course of action. I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

  • Athanasius De Angelus

    I hope that you’re just kidding right?

  • Romulus

    In the March for Life we have already drawn that line: Catholics who apply for parade permits are are careful to stay within the white lines and off the grass do not “want” badly enough to resort to peaceful civil disobedience.

  • Betty WaltonPruzinsky

    The Little Sisters of the Poor have a residence for the poor elderly in Totowa, NJ and have done wonderful things for people who have no resources to go to a good rest/nursing home. It is the “Taj Mahal” of retirement homes with the good sisters taking wonderful care of the residents and having “parties” at the drop of a hat. My mother was a volunteer there for about 30years. I’m glad they are suing.

  • ericpinola

    We must stand up to this crap. I’m tired of playing Defense against this monster.

  • ssdd

    “Yes, they’ll be punished and perhaps driven from serving the poor in America ”
    Sounds like the Affordable Care Act is accomplishing what it was meant to accomplish.

  • ProdiGaldaughter

    under the so-called affordable care act, you may not get that treatment at all….hmmm, age 46….not many ‘good years’ left for you to serve the state.

  • jennfire

    This President and his minions do not want ANYONE else to help the poor. They want to do it all, so they gain more little sheep. So interesting that the Muslims can opt out of Obamination care.

  • jennfire

    what good what it do. People see it, and say so sad, then go back to their lives. While the Sisters suffer, and also the people they help. And we will all pay more in the end. the Sisters know how to really help people, and not just shove money in their face.

  • Maria S Biddle

    yes you are willing to pay, I would be willing to pay, I will not be FORCED to pay.

  • FairLady

    You did notice that they (the government) exempted themselves right??

  • Brian English

    As I said, such scenes “might resonate” with people. But even if they don’t, don’t you have make a stand at some point? What happens when the government then mandates coverage for surgical abortions? And then euthanasia services after that? And then mandatory euthanasia services for disabled infants after that? And then mandatory euthanasia services for the senile after that?

  • Beezagirl

    People may not like this idea because Stephen Colbert is liberal, but he is also Catholic & has made many appearances with Cardinal Dolan, etc. Maybe this should be brought to his attention…. he does have something of a bully pulpit and an amazing ability to expose absurdities for what they are.

  • Athanasius De Angelus

    Of all the presidency this is unheard of. Are we still the U.S of A or what?
    What is going on here? Is obamination, the new Nero? What is happening to this country?

  • thinkingabovemypaygrade

    So sorry for the residents they are helping also “… 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. …” In the past, BOTH parties allowed religious conscience exemptions!!!

  • Biff Spiff

    I think that’s what they call sarcasm, Athanasius.

  • I_M_Forman

    “Domine quo vadis?”
    “To Washington to be crucified again.”

  • Lori Bishop-Tauber

    So sad, they definitely have to sue. No other way around it. When forced to, it must be done.

  • Jack

    No offense, but healthcare is not a right. Sorry. Sorry for illness, sorry for suffering, sorry for the poor- but, I am not willing to be forced to pay for everyone’s illnesses and everyone’s healthcare because the government has an empty jail cell. Can it not be my own decision to pay for others? And… what does “make others pay for their own decisions” mean? Perhaps it means (eg) that the huge percentage of obese who demand (and require) treatment should pay for it themselves. Sometimes it’s called “consequences.” Freddy, you go ahead and pay for everyone, you go ahead and pay for the inevitable graft that will be the rule- I already pay huge taxes. Let’s all demand government accountability.

  • Brian English

    Colbert is part of the problem. The reason Obama believes he can get away with things like this is because he knows Catholics like Colbert will have his back. Colbert will just dismiss this as right-wing Catholics being too concerned with issues like contraception. And I wonder what he is going to use as support for that position?

  • freddy

    According to the Catholic Bishops in this country, it is.
    See this link:
    CNS also had a news story in 2010 in which Pope Benedict called health care an “inalienable right.”

  • MrBultitude

    Biff pegged it.

  • Lee Ann MacMillan

    Obama and HHS(btw..did u know Sebelius is ‘Catholic’?)know if they can cripple/destroy the good works and Faith of/in the Catholic Church, the others will fall in line…just like Russia/Germany did years ago???

  • HigherCalling

    The dichotomies presented by Obamacare (and Liberalism in general) are truly Orwellian.

    —– Big Brother versus the Little Sisters —–

    That betrayal of intelligent leadership, synthesized in the sterile laboratory of Liberalism, originates in hell.

  • 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 overturning (destruction) of this unconstitutional, tyrannical, unamerican mandate.
    We should all pray to St Jeanne Jugan (St Mary of the Cross) about this!

  • cathyf

    I think that it is really quite deliberate to push Catholics out of health care. If you compare Europe’s socialized medicine to the US’s more-or-less-private system, one of the most striking differences has been the rise of wholesale euthanasia in the socialized systems. It’s utterly predictable — when patients and their families make the decisions, then they usually protect life of their loved ones. When strangers in the bureaucracy make the decisions, love is simply not one of their criteria — except for when the bureaucracy is a Catholic bureaucracy. Progressives know that the Church will never cooperate with euthanasia as health policy, and the Church is directly and indirectly in control of a significant amount of healthcare provision in the US. So the strategy is to use the contraception mandate to drive the Church out of healthcare and education and social services, so that then they will have full control.

    (Oh, and the next time you hear a bishop demanding that health care be a “right”, realize that he is demanding something that has always led to euthanasia everywhere else it has been tried.)

  • Erin

    If anyone reads in detail the bureaucratic steps that the Communists and Nazis undertook as they began to remove freedoms from the people in their territories, especially in their attacks on the Church, you will find that these kinds of actions are chillingly similar. I even dare to say almost identical. We are farther along the slope to tyranny than most people think, and we need to prepare ourselves to resist now before it is really and truly too late…if it’s not already.

  • Erin

    PS. to my above comment, let me say that when I say “rebel,” I mean 100% peaceful, loving, but firm and totally unyielding noncompliance!

  • Erin

    I have no opinion on health insurance being tied to employment or not. But the problem is that healthcare is now priced out of range for all but the very rich, if you don’t have insurance. Insurance is not affordable for average people either. Even if your employer pays much of the premium, it can still be too much for many families. And even with insurance, copays on serious treatment can eat up a family’s life savings and send them into bankruptcy. The system is broken, and that cannot just be blamed the personal “irresponsibility” of sick people (if that is what you mean) – that is blaming the victim.
    The system we have has driven costs up to utterly outrageous proportions. Without insurance you cannot even begin to pay for something like surgeries, because the cost is artificially high.
    I am totally against the present plan the Administration has in place…but something needs to change, because normal, hardworking, middle class people cannot afford either insurance or self-pay healthcare. My personal opinion is that much of the problem is the greed of insurance companies and healthcare entities, as well as the natural bloating effect of healthcare practitioners overcharging corporations that they know have deep pockets, but that is another debate!