A group of nuns suing the Obama administration will be praying for a Holy Week miracle come March.
The Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear the Little Sisters of the Poor’s lawsuit against the Obama administration’s so-called contraception mandate on March 23, the Wednesday before Easter.
The religious order, which runs nursing homes throughout the United States, says that notifying the government that it will not provide contraception coverage for its employees, in order to trigger a third-party administrator to provide the coverage, is a violation of their religious liberty.
The act of signing the form, they argue, makes them complicit in providing it.
The Obama administration disagrees, arguing that the structure is sufficient in balancing concerns over religious liberty with its goal to provide near-universal contraception coverage. A federal court agreed with the administration, ruling against the Little Sisters last July.
In a ruling last year, the Supreme Court allowed some “closely held” businesses with religious objections to refuse to pay for contraceptives for women.
In that case, the court agreed by a 5-4 vote with the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores and other companies that said their rights were being violated under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The case involving the Little Sisters of the Poor, which also includes as plaintiffs other Catholic entities, invokes the same law in asking that the government find a way that does not involve them or their insurers if it wishes to provide birth control to women covered by their health plans.
Houses of worship and other religious institutions whose primary purpose is to spread the faith are exempt from the requirement to offer birth control.
The nonprofit law firm representing the Little Sisters, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, says that the religious orders faces tens of millions of dollars in fines if it loses the case.
The Little Sisters have become iconic among those fighting the Affordable Care Act, as well as those who believe religious freedom is under threat in the United States.
Earlier this month, Speaker Paul Ryan invited two Little Sisters to be his guests at the State of the Union address, and during his September visit to the United States, Pope Francis met with members of the order living in Washington, DC.
The visit by the pope was not part of the pope’s public agenda. But the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said the visit was “connected” to the pope’s remarks delivered earlier that day, in which Francis praised US bishops for their efforts in defending religious liberty “from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.