INTERVIEW: Little Sisters’ Legal Counsel Explains Why the Supreme Court Should Let Them Serve

One of the Little Sisters of the Poor serves an elderly woman in her care (Photo: The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty)
One of the Little Sisters of the Poor serves an elderly woman in her care (Photo: The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty)

They have made a personal vow to God and to the elderly poor. With a joyful and humble spirit, the Little Sisters of the Poor are nuns who have dedicated their lives to ensure the frail elderly are treated with dignity and respect until they take their last breath.

The Little Sisters have a rich history of service that spans 175 years and 31 countries, serving more than 13,000 elderly poor. Yet today, these nuns find themselves petitioning the highest court of the land for justice in a case that reads like a modern-day David versus Goliath match.

The Little Sisters are undoubtedly David, driven by their mission to serve, while the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the giant demanding the Sisters compromise their Catholic faith to comply with an imposed health care mandate that goes against their religious beliefs.

To sort out these complex issues of law, liberty and health care policy, we turned to attorney Adèle Keim who serves with public interest legal firm The Becket Fund—representing the Little Sisters of the Poor in this legal battle. She gives insights on why this case matters for every American, particularly those who hold convictions on the pro-life and religious liberty causes.

Bound4LIFE: Could you briefly describe the Little Sisters of the Poor case – who are the parties and what do they want decided?

Adèle Keim: Right now, the Little Sisters of the Poor find themselves in a situation where the government is forcing them to provide services in their health plan like the week-after pill—which violates their religious beliefs.

They are just one of many different religious groups before the Supreme Court on this issue. Actually hundreds of evangelical religious groups represented by GuideStone, a major Southern Baptist health plan that serves only religious non-profits and churches, have come into court hand-in-hand with the Little Sisters.

They too do not want to have their religious health plans deliver the week-after pill to people working for religious nonprofits that aren’t exempted.

Bound4LIFE: What are your thoughts on oral arguments last week, as the eight Supreme Court Justices finally heard the Little Sisters case?

Adèle Keim: It was a lively debate inside the court. It was striking to hear both Justice Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts repeatedly ask the Solicitor General to answer why the government was “hijacking” the Little Sisters’ health plan, to use their words.

It’s such an important point because the Little Sisters aren’t just objecting to paperwork; they object to their Catholic conscience-compliant health plan being used as a vehicle to deliver contraceptives. The Solicitor General even admitted to the sincerity of the Little Sisters’ religious beliefs, that participating in the government scheme would make them complicit in sin. It becomes very clear the government’s case is weak.

Outside the court was an atmosphere of joy. Over 200 nuns and members of various religious orders, students and dozens of young pro-life advocates from across the country came to support the Little Sisters. Photos indicate religious liberty advocates represented about 80 percent of those gathered.

Bound4LIFE: What impact would the HHS mandate penalty have on the Little Sisters’ charity work?

Adèle Keim: Overall, the penalties burdening the Little Sisters would amount to about70 million dollars every year. It adds up to 100 dollars per day per employee, based on the current government mandate penalty. Such huge government penalties would be a crippling blow to this organization.

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Marisa Lengor Kwaning