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Here’s Why Paul Ryan Thinks ‘Religious Liberty Is Under Assault’ — but It Can ‘Make a Comeback’

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"When faith is ruled out of bounds, then happiness itself is put out of reach."

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) answers questions during his weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol April 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) took to the stage at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Tuesday to offer a strong defense of religious liberty and praise the efforts of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) during a news briefing on Capitol Hill. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Telling attendees that “religious liberty is under assault” in the United States, Ryan launched into a examination of the Little Sisters of the Poor’s Supreme Court case as evidence.

“I think we can all agree [the Little Sisters of the Poor] are doing some of the noblest work out there,” Ryan said. “And yet the administration has been trying to force them to offer benefits that violate their beliefs. The sisters have tried to negotiate with the administration, and frankly its response has shown a total misunderstanding of faith.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns who provide care for the elderly living in poverty, sued the Obama administration in order to attempt to gain an exemption from an Obamacare mandate requiring them to provide contraceptive and abortifacient drugs in their employee health plans. Catholic teaching forbids the use of these drugs, and thus Little Sisters have argued that providing them would violate their conscience and First Amendment rights.

The Supreme Court decided Monday to send the Little Sisters’ case back to the lower courts. According to Fox News, while the case is reconsidered, the Sisters — one of 37 separate petitioners in the consolidated case of Zubik v. Burwell — will not face fines for refusing to comply with the mandate.

Ryan reiterated his call for the Obama administration to rescind their demand that the sisters comply with the mandate.

“Thankfully, we got some good news from the Supreme Court yesterday, when it sent the case back to the lower courts,” he said. “Clearly, the court does not believe that the government has done a good enough job protecting religious liberty. And that’s why I’m calling on the administration to eliminate this burden once and for all.”

Ryan said that although religious liberty is under assault, he is optimistic that it “is going to make a comeback, because there is a growing need for faith.”

“A lot of people think faith is just an odd, colorful mask for the ugly face of intolerance,” Ryan said. “I am not saying we should feel put upon. I mean, saints were thrown to the lions. By that standard, we have it easy. What I am saying is, we have to advocate for our faith. And we should defend religious liberty not just on material grounds — that is, because people of faith do good things, like give to charity or volunteer. We should also defend it on spiritual grounds — that is, because living out our faith gives us joy.”

Ryan also addressed the impact his Catholic faith has had on his own life.

What people of faith understand is there is more to life than what we can see and hear. And there is nothing more life-changing than coming to know the Lord. Once you realize that there is a God, and He is good and He loves you — not just humanity at large, but you the person — you realize that you are not alone. You are not just a body. You are body and soul. And life is not just a tale "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Life is full of meaning. That is why prayer is so important. It is the hotline to heaven.

“And that is why we object when government restricts religious liberty: When faith is ruled out of bounds, then happiness itself is put out of reach,” he added.

Ryan concluded his remarks by asking those in attendance to “Please pray for me and all our elected officials that we may be instruments of God’s will.”

Sister Constance Veit of the Little Sisters of the Poor also addressed the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, telling those in attendance that she is thankful for the ruling and has faith the case will be resolved positively because God “will not abandon us.”

Veit attended the State of the Union Address in January as Ryan’s guest earlier this year.

Follow Kate Scanlon (@kgscanlon) on Twitter

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