Members of Congress Weigh In on Little Sisters of the Poor Case

More than 200 Members of Congress this week formally weighed in on one of the most pivotal cases to be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court this year.  Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Senator James Lankford (R-OK), Representative Diane Black (R-TN), and Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) led their colleagues in filing an amicus brief in Zubik v. Burwell, which consolidates seven cases, including that of the Little Sisters of the Poor, seeking relief from the Obama Administration’s mandate that all new health plans cover contraception, sterilization, and certain abortion-inducing drugs.  While the Hobby Lobby victory in 2014 spoke to the situation of closely-held for-profit corporations, these religious non-profit cases have been on a different path due to a so-called “accommodation” devised by the Administration that many critics find to be an insufficient accounting gimmick. 

The brief filed by these Members of Congress puts particular emphasis on the importance of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was approved unanimously in the House of Representatives, passed by a 97-3 vote in the Senate, and signed by President Bill Clinton in a Rose Garden ceremony in 1993.  The filing notes that RFRA was drafted to be “broad and sweeping” and that Congress has never exempted any later law from this statute’s application.  The brief states, “It protects all sincerely held beliefs—regardless of whether individual government officials agree with them—and protects all asserting those beliefs, including churches, religious non-profits, and all other individuals and entities.”

After filing this brief, Senator Hatch, who co-authored RFRA, stated, “Religious freedom is a fundamental right that government must respect and accommodate. Threatening draconian fines if religious organizations are unwilling to violate their faith clearly violates federal law.” Similarly, Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), who previously sponsored legislation to thwart the overreach of this Obamacare mandate, stated, “There is no asterisk in the First Amendment that exempts the president’s agenda from the guarantee of religious freedom.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who invited two leading nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor to be his guests at this week’s State of the Union address, is among the signers of this brief.  Also among the signers are House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).  Among other amici sending in briefs, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton led a filing for 20 states on behalf of religious freedom.

NRB Member Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is representing several Christian universities that are party to the consolidated Zubik v. Burwell proceeding, and Priests for Life, another NRB member, is also a party.  In a release this week, ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman stated, “The administration continues to impose the same unacceptable choice: obey and abandon your freedom, or resist and be punished…. the Supreme Court should rule in accord with its Hobby Lobby/Conestoga decision and ensure that people of faith are not punished for making choices consistent with that faith.”

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: January 15, 2016

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