The national debate over the Affordable Care Act appears nowhere near over, as the Little Sisters of the Poor — a Roman Catholic group of nuns who run nursing homes around the globe — continue their battle against the law's contentious contraceptive mandate.
The Colorado-based religious order announced on Thursday that it will once again petition the Supreme Court for protection against the government's requirement that contraceptives be made available to all employees free-of-charge through insurance plans.
"We perform this loving ministry because of our faith and simply cannot choose between our care for the elderly poor and our faith, and we shouldn’t have to," Sister Loraine Marie Maguire said in a statement on Thursday. "We hope the Supreme Court will hear our case and ensure that people from diverse faiths can freely follow God’s calling in their lives."
According to a press release from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a conservative legal firm, the Obama administration refuses to exempt the nuns from a "regulation that makes them choose between their faith — which prohibits them from providing contraceptives — and continuing to pursue their religious mission of serving the elderly poor."
In this Jan. 2, 2014 file photo, Sister Mary Grace visits with a resident in the dining room at the Mullen Home for the Aged, run by Little Sisters of the Poor, in Denver, Colorado (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)
At the center of the battle is a government "accommodation" that was offered through the Department of Health and Human Services last year — a provision that allows closely held corporations as well as religious groups to sign EBSA Form 700, a document that passes the responsibility off to the government, which then finds a third-party to provide contraceptives, according to the National Catholic Reporter.
But the Little Sisters still object to the accommodation based on religious principle.
Daniel Blomberg, an attorney with the Becket Fund — the same firm that secured a win against the contraceptive mandate for Hobby Lobby, the popular craft stow chain — recently told TheBlaze that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit "got it wrong" when it ruled on July 14 that the Little Sisters of the Poor must comply with the mandate by using the accommodation's opt-out form.
"The Tenth Circuit got it wrong again, just like it got it wrong the first time," he said, saying that it is likely that yet another Obamacare battle could be heading back up to the Supreme Court. "The government has been too aggressive ... it insists on setting up what really is a parasite plan that attaches to religious ministry plans."
Blomberg said that the Little Sisters of the Poor, among other religious groups, will need to rely on the Supreme Court to try and remedy the ongoing dispute and potentially obtain permanent relief.
"The government wants to say that the Little Sisters' theology is wrong and [that they] aren't religious enough to get respect for their faith," he said. "This is the core of the case, the 'theology is wrong' point comes in, because they're saying that the Little Sisters [are wrong] when they say, 'We have a sincere objection.'"
While the government maintains that signing the form relieves the nuns from taking part in the mandate, the sisters feel complicit — and Blomberg said that this is where the problem takes root. He said that the government simply views the Little Sisters as not religious enough to be given the same pass on the mandate that churches have been granted.
Blomberg charged that there's "religious discrimination" at play when the government acts as though a religious group like the Little Sisters isn't faithful enough, so the Little Sisters are joining other Christian groups to ask the Supreme Court to settle the matter once and for all.
"They are seeking relief from a 100-page decision by the Tenth Circuit that disagrees with the ministries’ understanding of moral theology," read a Thursday a press release from the Becket Fund. "[The] petition is the fifth the Court has received and makes it likely the Court will decide in the upcoming term whether religious ministries, like religious for-profits, will receive protection from the mandate."
The government set new rules for its contraceptive mandate after the Supreme Court's 5 to 4 decision in June 2014 that "closely held corporations" like Hobby Lobby could be exempt from the mandate if their owners have opposition to these drugs. But those rules have not been seen by many groups as being disconnected enough from employers to make them feel comfortable with the amendments.
The Little Sisters could face fines of up to $2.5 million per year if they refuse to comply and are not granted a permanent relief from the rules, the National Catholic Register reported.
The U.S. Supreme Court has previously stepped in twice to offer temporary protection to the sisters.