Last week the Little Sisters of the Poor filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court requesting the justices overturn a federal court decision from Pennsylvania that endangered their religious freedom. In that case, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a religious exemption drafted by the Trump Administration related to an Obamacare-related mandate that launched dozens of lawsuits by faith-based businesses, individuals and organizations.
This week, the U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the Trump Administration, filed a similar petition with the nation’s high court in the same case. That’s good news. It means the Trump Administration was serious when it came to the defense of the Little Sisters and other religious nonprofit organizations who refused to compromise their religious conscience and furnish possible abortion-causing drugs in their employee health plans.
In 2017, following an Executive Order issued by President Trump, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) expanded the religious exemption in what has become known as the “HHS mandate” or “contraceptive mandate.” The original mandate, issued by the Obama-era HHS as part of Obamacare, ignited a furor over the weak protections for religious conscience. In the first iteration of the mandate, only churches and seminaries were exempted from having to provide the objectionable drugs in their health plans.
Hobby Lobby and other faith-based businesses reacted by filing numerous lawsuits across the country, ending successfully in 2014 with the U.S. Supreme Court holding that faith-based, for-profit businesses such as Hobby Lobby are protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of religion and the federal statute known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The Obama Administration attempted to revise its religious exemption in response to the complaints from religious nonprofit organizations such as Little Sisters of the Poor. The subsequent exemption language satisfied almost no one, and another round of lawsuits erupted, this time from religious nonprofits. Those ended with a hopeful directive from the Supreme Court to the parties to attempt to settle on acceptable exemption language. However, those negotiations proved fruitless.
The 2016 elections intervened, resulting in a new administration with religious freedom at the forefront of its policy priorities.
When the Trump HHS attempted to broaden the exemption’s language to meet the objections of Little Sisters and others, various blue states objected and filed federal lawsuits. A federal district court judge in Pennsylvania issued a nationwide injunction against the operation of the new exemption, and the 3rd Circuit agreed.
Now it’s on to the Supreme Court. It’s funny how no blue state objected to the miniscule exemption that Obama’s HHS crafted, but now they’re irate at Trump’s HHS for writing a more comprehensive one.
It’s just one more indicator as to how anti-religious certain state governments have become. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will resolve the issue in favor of the new exemption language. We won’t know for several months whether the high court will take on this case.
The case is Trump v Pennsylvania.