The U.S. Supreme Court has continued its trend of decisions stopping enforcement of a federal contraception mandate against religious employers with moral objections. On April 15, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito issued an order barring the federal government from enforcing the mandate against Catholic Charities affiliates, Catholic schools and social service organizations in the dioceses of Erie and Pittsburgh. “Every time a religious plaintiff has gone to the Supreme Court for protection from the government’s discriminatory mandate the Court has protected them,” Lori Windham, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said April 17. “How many times must the government lose in court before it gets the message?” she added. “For years now the government has been claiming that places like Catholic Charities and the Little Sisters of the Poor are not ‘religious employers’ worthy of an exemption. That argument has always been absurd.” The plaintiffs in the case have objected to a Department of Health and Human Services rule mandating insurance coverage of sterilization procedures and contraception, including some drugs that can cause abortions. The organizations said they cannot help employees acquire the objectionable drugs and procedures without violating their religious beliefs. Alito’s court order requires the government to brief the court on why it should be able to fine the objecting organizations, according to the Becket Fund. Windham noted that the court has sided with plaintiffs against the HHS mandate in four previous cases. Other plaintiffs which have prevailed against the mandate include institutions and businesses such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, Wheaton College, the University of Notre Dame and Hobby Lobby. “The federal bureaucracy has lots of options for distributing contraceptives — they don’t need to coerce nuns and priests to do it for them,” said Windham, whose organization has represented the Little Sisters of the Poor and other challengers of the mandate. On April 24, the Supreme Court is expected to consider a similar case involving the Nashville, Tenn.-based Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, and several Catholic charities in Tennessee and Michigan.
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