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Little Sisters of the Poor stand outside the U.S. Supreme Court, 6 May Little Sisters of the Poor stand outside the U.S. Supreme Court, 6 May 

Bishops call on US Supreme Court to reaffirm religious freedom

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) expresses its dismay over the cases filed against Catholic religious orders and schools.

By Vatican News

In a statement dated 6 May and released on their website, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) write “the Little Sisters of the Poor again find themselves in court defending their community against attempts to force Catholic religious to violate their conscience”.

Three chairmen of USCCB committee issued the statement: Youngstown's Bishop George V. Murry, S.J. cChairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty, Kansas City, Kansas's Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, Chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Oakland's Bishop Michael C. Barber, S.J., Chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education:

Little Sisters of the Poor

On 5 May, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments via telephone in the case of Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In 2011 the US government added contraception to a list of preventive services that must be covered in employee insurance. Since then, Catholic Institutions around the country, including the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Poor, have been fighting against this mandate, as it opposes the beliefs and teachings of the Catholic Church.

Minesterial exemptions

The Court will also hear oral arguments on 11 May in the consolidated cases of Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel. “These cases involve the right of Catholic schools, free of government interference, to choose teachers who will teach and model the Catholic faith”, write the US Bishops.

Right for religious freedom

The Bishops go on to express their support for all three religious institutions involved in the court cases. Through their work with the elderly poor, the Little Sisters of the Poor are “committed to building a culture of life”, write the Bishops. The two schools, Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. James, “continue the Catholic tradition of offering Christian education”.

The Bishops then write that “religious organizations have a right, recognized by the Constitution, to select people who will perform ministry, and the government has no legitimate authority to second guess those ministerial decisions”. Likewise, the government has no authority to “force a religious order to violate the religious beliefs that animate its mission”.  

The Bishops describe the “attacks” made by Pennsylvania and other states as “dismaying”, particularly after the federal government “expanded religious exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate”.

Nonetheless, they express their hope that the Supreme Court will “reaffirm the freedom of our Catholic religious orders and schools to practice their faith and to serve others in love”.

Second case at the Supreme Court

This is not the first time the U.S. Supreme Court has heard a case involving the Little Sisters of the Poor. In March, 2016, the Court heard a case involving them and another 5 religious institutions. Two months later, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling against the Congregation. In addition, the Supreme Court instructed the lower court to work with the government to find alternatives so health services deemed unethical could be provided without requiring religious institutions to provide them.

07 May 2020, 18:00