The federal government is pursuing its case against the Little Sisters of the Poor in an attempt to get the religious order to comply with newly issued interim rules regarding the Department of Health and Human Services' contraception mandate under the Affordable Care Act.
The government filed a brief Sept. 8 in the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, where the Little Sisters of the Poor run a home for the aged. Other plaintiffs in the case include Southern Nazarene University in Denver and Reaching Souls International, an Oklahoma nonprofit.
Attorneys for the Little Sisters of the Poor said they would continue to fight the contraceptive mandate.
"Religious ministries in these cases serve tens of thousands of Americans, helping the poor and homeless and healing the sick," said a Sept. 9 statement by Adele Keim, counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the religious order.
"The Little Sisters of the Poor alone serve more than 10,000 of the elderly poor. These charities want to continue following their faith. They want to focus on ministry – such as sharing their faith and serving the poor – without worrying about the threat of massive IRS penalties," Keim added.
"The government has already exempted millions of Americans from this requirement for commercial or secular reasons, so it should certainly protect the Little Sisters for religious reasons."
The government contended in its brief that the Supreme Court's reasoning in June in the Hobby Lobby case, which held that closely held for-profit companies can also opt out of providing contraceptive coverage to their employees, underscored the government's position.
"The existing accommodation, the Supreme Court explained, 'seeks to respect the religious liberty of religious nonprofit corporations while ensuring that the employees of these entities have precisely the same access to all FDA-approved contraceptives as employees of companies whose owners have no religious objections to providing such coverage,'" the government said in its brief.
The plaintiffs' notion that "opting out of providing contraceptive coverage 'triggers' or 'facilitates' provision of such coverage by third parties" is a "mistaken view," the government brief said.
"Although the Supreme Court previously required the Little Sisters to do nothing more than notify the government of their religious objection, the government issued new regulations last month in an attempt to circumvent the Supreme Court's order," said a statement by the Becket Fund.
Keim said the Becket Fund would soon file a brief to counter the government's claims.