Two nuns belonging to a religious order that’s suing the Obama administration will be on hand for the president’s final State of the Union address.
Speaker Paul Ryan announced Tuesday that Sister Loraine Marie Maguire and Sister Constance Veit will sit in the speaker’s box, representing the Little Sisters of the Poor, a community of nuns who run more than two dozen nursing homes in the United States.
The order joined a number of Catholic entities in filing a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services because they say the Affordable Care Act’s so-called contraception mandate, which requires employers to provide insurance coverage that includes coverage for artificial birth control, infringes on their religious liberty.
The Obama administration responded to complaints from religious nonprofits with a compromise that allowed them to notify the government of their opposition, which would then trigger a requirement for insurers to provide the coverage instead of the employers.
But the Little Sisters said they would still be complicit in providing contraception, and they sued the administration.
They have lost several times in court, but in November the Supreme Court said it would hear their case, scheduled to take place in March.
Ryan said he extended an invitation to the Little Sisters to highlight his belief in religious liberty.
“The Little Sisters of the Poor care for the most vulnerable among us, and they should be free to practice their faith without the threat of government interference or intimidation,” Ryan said in a press release. “The Sisters’ stand in defense of religious liberty — one of our most fundamental rights — is nothing short of courageous, and it’s my privilege to support their cause.”
In September, some of the Little Sisters based in Washington received a surprise visit from Pope Francis during his US visit.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said at the time that the visit, which was not part of the pope’s public schedule, was “connected” to the pope’s remarks delivered at the White House, in which Francis praised US bishops for their efforts in defending religious liberty “from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”
Another figure associated with religious liberty battles says she will also be in attendance Tuesday.
A lawyer for Kentucky clerk Kim Davis told Politico that the pair had been invited, but he would not say by which member of Congress. Davis has refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing her religious beliefs, and she ended up in jail briefly for refusing to comply with a judge’s order to allow her staff to sign the licenses.
Pope Francis also met with Davis during his US tour. Though unlike the meeting with the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Vatican distanced itself from the Davis encounter, with one priest close to the pope Tweeting that Francis had been “exploited.”
Earlier this week, the White House released its State of the Union guest list, which includes a Syrian refugee, a military veteran who was brought to the United States as a child from Mexico without proper documentation, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage, and an empty chair to recognize victims of gun violence.