House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) took to the House floor Tuesday to deliver a strong defense of the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns who provide care for the elderly living in poverty.
The organization has asked the Supreme Court to exempt them from the Affordable Care Act’s Health and Human Services mandate that requires them to provide coverage for birth control and abortifacient drugs in their employee health insurance plans. Catholic teaching forbids the use of these drugs, and the Little Sisters have argued that providing them would violate their conscience.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in their case Wednesday.
“Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell. And today, I stand in support of the Little Sisters,” Ryan said.
Ryan touted the Little Sisters’s work to serve the elderly poor in 31 countries.
“We talk a lot about public service up here,” he said. “Well, these are the people who live it. They are the definition of public service.”
Ryan invited two of the Little Sisters to attend the State of the Union Address in January as his guests.
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) January 13, 2016
“I was amazed to hear of all the good work that they do,” he said. “So the last thing the federal government should do is make their jobs harder. But that, unfortunately, is exactly what this administration is doing.”
“Under the health care law, the Department of Health and Human Services is insisting on a regulation that requires the sisters to offer benefits that violate their religious beliefs,” Ryan said. “The administration claims to have offered them an ‘accommodation.’ But it is just a fig leaf. So this is the choice that they are facing: Either violate your faith or pay up to $70 million a year in fines.”
Ryan stated, “There is no good reason for any of this.”
“A full one third of the American people are exempt from this regulation. So why insist that the sisters — of all people — follow it? There are other ways to protect people’s health that do not violate people’s faith,” Ryan argued.
Ryan called the regulation “a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
“A broad, bipartisan majority in Congress voted for that law,” he said. “And what Congress said was this: The burden is not on your faith to obey government mandates. The burden is on the government to respect your faith.”
He described the Little Sisters’ case as “the very meaning of religious liberty.”
“That is one of our founding principles,” Ryan said. “That is why we should do everything we can to let people live out their faith. That is why many colleagues of mine and I have joined an amicus brief asking the Court to grant the sisters the relief that they deserve, and that is why I am here today — to stand in defense of the sisters, to stand in defense of the law, and to stand in defense of religious liberty.”
Follow Kate Scanlon (@kgscanlon) on Twitter