Justice for the Little Sisters

Nov 05 2017
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Justice for the Little Sisters

Two years ago, in October 2015, I wrote a column in this space. I told the story of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns who dedicate their lives to serving the poorest elderly and dying folks. The nuns were offended when the Obama administration required them to include birth control in their health plan; it violated their religious beliefs. When the Sisters petitioned the government for redress, they were refused. In fact, the full strength of the federal government was turned on them, and they fought all the way to the Supreme Court.

When Pope Francis visited the Little Sisters in 2015, they complained to him about the onerous government policy. One of the nuns was 100 years old, still working. She didn’t understand why the government required her policy to have birth control.

It was an incredible case. It seemed so obvious, that American citizens had a right to free exercise of their religious beliefs. And yet, Obamacare spent a fortune of taxpayer money to force a government mandate on the Little Sisters. What happened to our America, we asked, when the federal government sues a religious group with a 150 year record of charity? All the while, the Sisters made very clear that they in no way wanted to prevent the government from providing birth control to women who wanted those benefits. They just wanted a simple health policy that would not violate their own religious beliefs.

Well, the Sisters received a first dose of justice in May 2016. The United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the Obama administration and ordered them to change the policy which so offended the Little Sisters. The Supreme Court said the government must provide a policy which accommodates the Sisters’ religious beliefs. The nuns celebrated the victory on the courthouse steps. Yet, the Obama administration moved at a snail’s pace, knowing that a new administration would be elected soon.

However, the Little Sisters’ victory was cemented when a conservative Republican president was elected last November. A Republican president who believes in individual rights, including freedom of religion. Within months, a first step was taken.

In May 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order directing all federal agencies to protect the Sisters and other religious ministries from the Obamacare mandate. The agencies are now required to fix their rules to exempt the Sisters and other religious groups from the mandate. Also, the agencies must end their legal fights against the Sisters and other ministries in courts across America.

And this month, on October 6, the government issued a new rule with a broader religious exemption to the Obamacare mandate. That clears the way for a final court resolution of this shameful chapter in American history. Now the Sisters can continue their noble mission, without the ridiculous government mandate hanging overhead.

There is a lesson to be learned from this sordid episode. You may not be religious, or you may not be participating in the political speech arena, but as an American you do have these rights. We all do. And in the future may come another liberal president who thinks he knows which rights you should keep, or that she thinks are “appropriate” for you. Once again, freedom lovers will rise up to defend their rights, as the founding fathers predicted.

Is this a new experience in America? Not at all.

I once lived in the state of Vermont. An interesting place, in many respects. My town was founded in the year 1768. Yes, it was founded as part of the British empire. Government policy at that time included a provision to fund the official government sponsored church, the Church of England. Taxes were levied on property, as we do today. But part of the tax paid for the government services, and the other part paid for the Church’s expenses!

Colonists hated that tax, especially those who did not believe the Church’s doctrines. And sure enough, in the Constitution of the new United States of America, the very first words of the very First Amendment are “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.

We value our rights as Americans. The Republican party is dedicated to preserving individual rights. When you cast your next vote, remember the Little Sisters of the Poor. And remember the Republican party which defended their rights. I certainly will.

Scott S. Kramer is chairman of the Republican Party of Kendall County.

First Published by the Boerne Star