M.Z. asks: Why do some journalists avoid using the name of the 'Little Sisters of the Poor'?
. the Little Sisters of the Poor. In part, as illustrated in the photo at the top of the post, we can M.Z. asks: Why do some journalists avoid using the name of the 'Little Sisters of the Poor'? Little Sisters of the Poor Little-Sisters-of-the-Poor-672.jpg To Make Sure You Never Hear About ‘The Little Sisters Of The Poor’." You need to read the whole thing , but this is where she kicks into high gear: A case ofLittle Sisters of the Poor” vs. “Powerful without mentioning some rather important words, as in, "Little Sisters of the Poor." Luckily for me of reasons, public discussions of the case have boiled down to the Barack Obama administration vs that is hiding the name and story of the Little Sisters of the Poor. A reader noticed that David G
HHS 'religious employer' definition changed? (updated)
Little Sisters of the Poor Little Sisters of the Poor or the It would be hard to find a city in American that contains more historic Catholic ministries than Baltimore. Thus, there are quite a few people here in Charm City who are involved in the legal warfare over the Health and Human Services mandate requiring most religious institutions to offer their employees, and students, health-insurance plans covering sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, including “morning-after pills.” In particular, the historic Baltimore suburb of Catonsville includes a group linked to a highly symbolic ministry caught up in this church-state fight. There is a good chance that, eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court could hear a case that literally would be called The Little Sisters of the Poor vs. Kathleen Sebelius. The Baltimore Sun team has to cover this group, of course. Today's tiny Christmas Eve Eve edition includes an A1 report that is surprisingly good -- except on one of the most crucial facts linked to this case. The key, of course, is the unique three-level approach to religious liberty that is being used by this White House. The Sun team knows that the Little Sisters of the Poor are caught in the middle, between the for-profit companies that are fighting the mandate (think Hobby Lobby) and the churches and strictly denominational organizations that have been granted conscience-clause exemptions. To its credit, the story includes -- in addition to logical pro-White House sources -- this strong passage, with a logical voice of authority, on the viewpoint argued by the Sisters: Although dozens of for-profit and nonprofit employers have filed lawsuits over the requirement, the Becket Fund says the Little Sisters' lawsuit was the first of its kind because it could potentially affect hundreds of nonprofit Catholic ministries. Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori said the Little Sisters' service is "unmistakably a work of religion" and said the issue is one of religious liberty that could affect all religious people, not just Catholics. "The government is drawing lines where the church does not draw them," said Lori, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. "We see serving the poor, educating the young, healing the sick, as a natural outgrowth from what we believe and how we worship. And so we believe that all of these ministries should be exempt." ... Planned Parenthood characterizes the law's religious exemption as expansive and says it will allow 350,000 churches, religious schools and houses of worship to get out of the requirement. At issue in this Little Sisters of the Poor case is whether groups that don't fall under that exemption should be counted as "religious employers." Like I said, this is a pretty good report and it did appear on A1. So what is the problem? Simply stated, the story never quotes the key language in the HHS mandate (regulations.gov link here) that defines who is and who is not a "religious employer" and, thus, worthy of full religious liberty protection on matters of doctrine. The amended interim final regulations specified that, for purposes of this exemption, a religious employer is one that: (1) Has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organization described in section 6033(a)(1) and section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii) of the Code. Section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) and (iii) of the Code refers to churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches, as well as to the exclusively religious activities of any religious order. In the HRSA Guidelines, HRSA exercised its discretion under the amended interim final regulations such that group health plans established and maintained by these religious employers (and any group health insurance coverage provided in connection with such plans) are not required to cover contraceptive services. This government website also notes (I added the bold print): These regulations finalize, without change, interim final regulations authorizing the exemption of group health plans and group health insurance coverage sponsored by certain religious employers from having to cover certain preventive health services under provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Now, the White House latter offered what it believed was a crucial compromise on the mandate, one that said health-insurance companies would have to provide contraceptives, sterilizations and "morning-after pills" for free when non-profit religious ministries object to this coverage. This has not satisfied these ministries, who believe (a) that they will still be participating in actions that violate their doctrines and (b) that health-insurance companies will simply hide (surprise, surprise) these costs in higher health-care fees to the ministries. However, to my knowledge, the White House has not changed the most controversial piece of this puzzle -- the three-tier approach to religious liberty outlined in the mandate language quoted above. That is why it was rather disturbing to see this Sun piece claim the following, while quoting an omnipresent Catholic progressive, Father Thomas J. Reese: In weighing these issues, the federal government is caught between two values, Reese said -- the rights of women to have access to contraception and the rights of religious employers to act upon their conscience. ... "This is what life in America's about," he said. "How do you live in a pluralistic society where people have different values and different goals?" Reese said he thought the initial definition of a religious employer -- which has since been broadened -- was too narrow. Still, he said, the government must find a balance in granting exemptions. "Once you allow a person to say, 'My religious conscience says I don't have to obey this law,' if that become an absolute principle, then you've got chaos," Reese said. Wait! The DEFINITION of a religious employer has significantly changed from the three-level system posted at the regulations.gov source? It has changed in a way that says the Little Sisters of the Poor are performing religious work when working with non-Catholics who are poor and elderly, as opposed to limiting their work to needy Catholics? Since when? That would be a huge, huge national news story that would
Hey, LA Times, there's more to HHS fight than Hobby Lobby
Little Sisters of the Poor ago, journalists could end up covering The United States of America vs. The Little Sisters of the Poor. Do
Pod people: White House vs. the Wheaton College covenant
doctrinally defined ministries, non-profits and schools that continue to oppose the mandate. Yes, this is Little Sisters of the Poor Little Sisters of the Poor camp, which also includes many schools and universities, such as Wheaton College. the Little Sisters of the Poor camp, which also includes many schools and universities, such as defined ministries, non-profits and schools that continue to oppose the mandate. Yes, this is the
Pope in DC: Ssssshhhh! Francis also slipped away to visit the Little Sisters of the Poor
story? I first read about the Little Sisters of the Poor meeting in, yes, an online conservative a highly symbolic grace note -- slipping away to meet with members of the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order dedicated to helping the poor and elderly. Little Sisters of the Poor Little Sisters of the Poor, which operates homes for the elderly in cities across the country, has a highly symbolic grace note -- slipping away to meet with members of the Little Sisters of the Poor, an Pope in DC: Ssssshhhh! Francis also slipped away to visit the Little Sisters of the Poor to live out your religion,” he said. “The last thing the Little Sisters of the Poor want to do is sue : Pope Francis met with the Little Sisters of the Poor -- nuns who have been in a long battle over a
NYT: Nuns, birth control and Obamacare
Believe it or not, I come not to bury the Great Gray Lady but to praise her. Before pushing the button that dropped the famed crystal ball in New York City's Times Square to ring in 2014, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued an eleventh-hour ruling that blocked a requirement of the nation's new health-care law. As The New York Times reports: WASHINGTON — In temporarily blocking enforcement of the part of President Obama’s health care law that requires many employers to provide health insurance coverage for birth control or face penalties, Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Tuesday opened a second front in Supreme Court challenges to the provision. The initial front opened in November, when the justices agreed to hear a pair of cases from for-profit companies challenging that provision. Now Justice Sotomayor has ordered the Obama administration to file a brief by Friday morning responding to a different kind of challenge, this one from groups affiliated with religious organizations. In the meantime, she issued a temporary injunction barring the administration from enforcing the birth control requirement against an order of Colorado nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and related groups. The Times piece is labeled "News Analysis," but — surprise, surprise — it impressed me as solid, down-the-middle journalism that sheds light on complicated issues. I liked it, in other words. For the casual observer, the story does a nice job of putting Sotomayor's ruling into context: To understand the context of Justice Sotomayor’s decision, it helps to look at the details of the Affordable Care Act. The law distinguishes among three kinds of organizations: religious employers, for-profit corporations and nonprofit groups affiliated with religious organizations but not owned or controlled by them. Under the law, religious employers like churches are exempt from the contraceptive requirement. For-profit corporations fall on the other end of the spectrum and are not exempt. Nonprofit groups affiliated with, but not owned or controlled by religious organizations, like the Little Sisters of the Poor, fall in the middle. Although such groups need not provide coverage themselves, they must sign a certification allowing insurance companies to do so. The dispute in the new case is whether that certification itself amounts to conduct that violates the groups’ religious faith. That kind of background is extremely helpful in understanding this week's news development. Kudos, New York Times.
Got news? White House vs. Little Sisters of the Poor
Got news? White House vs. Little Sisters of the Poor From coast to coast, the lawyers of religious groups and charities can almost quote the following legal language by heart. This is, of course, linked to the strange -- from a church-state separation perspective -- Health and Human Services mandate that attempts to create two different levels of religious liberty in the United States. Group health plans sponsored by certain religious employers, and group health insurance coverage in connection with such plans, are exempt from the requirement to cover contraceptive services. A religious employer is one that: (1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organization under Internal Revenue Code section 6033(a)(1) and section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii). ... To cut to the chase, this legal language appears to offer (Justice Anthony Kennedy, please call your answering service) religious liberty for activities inside sanctuary doors, involving believers, and religious liberty lite for forms of religious ministry that impact the public. As I noted, via direct quotation, in a recent Scripps Howard News Service column: “Consider Blessed Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity reaching out to the poorest of the poor without regard for their religious affiliation,” said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lorio this June, during the American bishops’ Fortnight For Freedom campaign. “The church seeks to affirm the dignity of those we serve not because they are Catholic but because we are Catholic. The faith we profess, including its moral teachings, impels us to reach out -- just as Jesus did -- to those in need and to help build a more just and peaceful society.” Now this precise conflict has hit the headlines in an amazing and symbolic case that simply has to end up in a high court, sooner rather than later, unless White House lawyers jump in and make changes. The problem is that this story is making headlines, at this point, in Catholic and alternative, "conservative" news sources. Once again, we are in that strange era in which the defense of old-fashioned liberal values is suddenly "conservative." In this case, we are dealing with a news story -- period. Here it is at LifeSiteNews.com, with material drawn from, ironically, the rather funky libertarian conservative Daily Caller. The Obama administration’s HHS mandate may force the Catholic Little Sisters of the Poor to cease their U.S. operations, according to Sister Constance Carolyn Veit, the religious order’s communications director. The Little Sisters currently provide group homes and daily care for the elderly poor in 30 U.S. cities. Sister Constance told The Daily Caller that the Little Sisters may not qualify for a religious exemption from ObamaCare’s requirement that employers provide coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-causing drugs free of charge to female workers. “We are not exempt from the [ObamaCare] mandate because we neither serve nor employ a predominantly Catholic population,” Constance said. ”We hire employees and serve/house the elderly regardless of race and religion, so that makes us ineligible for the exemption being granted churches.” Catholic teaching forbids contraception, sterilization and abortion, but President Obama’s health-care overhaul law requires employers to offer services that cause all three to their employees without a co-pay. Failure to comply will result in fines of $100 a day per employee -- even for religious orders like the Little Sisters whose members have taken vows of poverty. “[I]t could be a serious threat to our mission in the U.S.,” said Sister Constance, “because we would never be able to afford to pay the fines involved. We have difficulty making ends meet just on a regular basis; we have no extra funding that would cover these fines.” My point, in this post, is not to debate the HHS mandate itself. However, it is clear that, as currently worded, the Little Sisters of the Poor do not qualify for protection -- for the same reason that the sisters walking in the footsteps of Mother Teresa do not qualify. My point here is journalistic: Is this an interesting news story? I would argue that it would be hard to imagine a more symbolic showdown than, literally, The United States vs. The Little Sisters of the Poor. That, friends and neighbors, is quite a headline. The fines hitting the various branches of this poverty-based religious order would, literally, be millions of dollars a year. But this would never happen, right? As it turns out, the Little Sisters of the Poor have previously been forced to leave other countries because of religious-liberty disputes. “[A]s Little Sisters of the Poor, we are not strangers to religious intolerance,” Sister Constance wrote in a June 2012 essay for The Tablet, a Brooklyn-based Catholic newspaper. “Our foundress was born at the height of the French Revolution and established our congregation in its aftermath.” “Our sisters have been forced to leave numerous countries, including China, Myanmar and Hungary, because of religious intolerance,” she wrote. “We pray that the United States will not be added to this list.” Got news? Not yet. Help your GetReligionistas look for the headlines in the mainstream press. This is a poignant news story, right? Little Sisters of the Poor
New York Times (reluctantly) admits that 'some' courts are backing HHS mandate
Little Sisters of the Poor As you GetReligionistas have repeatedly stressed in recent years, the battles over the Health and Human Services contraceptives mandate is not a simple story involving two levels of conflict, with churches and religious groups being granted an clear exemption and for-profit corporations over on the losing side of the religious-liberty equation. As this battle has continued in the courts, things have only grown more complex -- both for the Obama White House and the journalists who cover it. For starters, there was that whole Hobby Lobby ruling and the fine-tuning in the regulations that has taken place since then. Meanwhile, the really interesting legal wars have focused on doctrinally-defined schools, ministries and parachurch groups that are caught in the middle. This is where things get really complicated and, frankly, many journalists do not seem to understand what all of the fuss is about. In news reports, journalists continue to describe a wave of court victories for the White House -- while having to admit that there are religious groups who don't see things that way. A new story in The New York Times offers a classic example of this struggle to frame the debate: WASHINGTON -- Four federal appeals courts have upheld efforts by the Obama administration to guarantee access to free birth control for women, suggesting that the government may have found a way to circumvent religious organizations that refuse to provide coverage for some or all forms of contraception. While pleased with the rulings, administration officials are not celebrating. Another federal appeals court, based in Denver, is considering a challenge to the same federal policy by the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman Catholic nuns who operate homes for low-income older people. At a hearing in December, a three-judge panel asked tough questions of lawyers on both sides of that case. What is this, journalistically speaking? Note that this victorious lede contains both the phrases "suggesting that" and "may have found a way." That dampens the celebration, just a bit, methinks. Also note the interesting final clause in the lede, as in the statement that the "government may have found a way to circumvent religious organizations that refuse to provide coverage for some or all forms of contraception." How might leaders of these religious organizations -- note, as opposed to houses of worship and denominations -- phrase that? They might say something like "refuse to provide coverage for some or all forms of contraception to employees or students, in violation of the doctrinal covenants they chose to sign when joining these voluntary associations." Or words to that effect. As the Times team does note, the Little Sisters of the Poor are still out there, along with lots of doctrinally-defined colleges and universities, refusing to cooperate in the White House system in which religious leaders are forced to cooperate with government efforts to help employees (and in some cases students) violate of the teachings of the groups with which they have chosen to affiliate. Thus, the article notes: Sister Constance Veit, a spokeswoman for the Little Sisters of the Poor, said: “We live our lives very far from the public eye. We are not political activists at all. But we fear that the mandate could set a precedent for greater government intrusion into our ministry. “Our health plans have never included contraceptives, and we’ve never had any complaints,” Sister Constance said. “It has never been an issue for our staff.” This Times story actually goes a rather good job of showing the complex nature of these debates, while -- time after time -- insisting that the debates are, essentially, over and that doctrinally-defined religious ministries in the middle of this fight are, well, just not GETTING IT. And the judges? Well, that is rather complex: Adam C. Jed, a Justice Department lawyer, explained that when a nonprofit religious group refuses to provide contraceptive coverage, “the government then steps in and fills the gap.” But that arrangement is abhorrent to some religious groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, because the government can rely on information provided by the employer. “The action of the religious employer is the trigger for contraceptive coverage,” said Mark L. Rienzi, a lawyer at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who represents the nuns. “The government wants to use our plan and our plan’s information to provide this coverage.” Some judges disagree. Yes, note the word "some." In many ways, that one word is sign that some of the journalists in the world's most powerful newsroom recognize that the battles continue, even if those battles are -- in their eyes -- stupid and futile. Now, a confession: I read that Times piece right after opening a new email press release from the Becket Fund staff. Yes, this is public-relations material, not a news report. I know that. Still I thought GetReligion readers might enjoy reading how experts on the other side of this issue from the Times editors framed the same set of developments. Washington, D.C. -- Today the Department of Health and Human Services announced that -- despite losing repeatedly at the U.S. Supreme Court -- it would continue trying to force religious nonprofits like the Little Sisters of the Poor to help distribute contraceptives, including the “week-after pill.” Today’s announcement comes after multiple losses in contraceptive mandate cases at the Supreme Court, including last year’s Hobby Lobby decision and Court decisions regarding the Little Sisters of the Poor and Wheaton College. In fact, just last week the Supreme Court ordered the government not to enforce this rule against Catholic organizations from Pennsylvania, marking the government’s sixth loss in a row at the Supreme Court regarding the mandate. There are now four petitions before the Supreme Court asking the Court to finally resolve the issue by June 2016. “The government keeps digging the hole deeper,” said Adèle Auxier Keim, Legal Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “Just last week the Supreme Court ordered HHS not to enforce the exact rules they finalized today. But the government still won’t give up on its quest to force nuns and other religious employers to distribute contraceptives. Especially after the Supreme Court’s recent King v. Burwell decision allowed the government to expand its healthcare exchanges, there is no reason at all the government needs religious employers to help it distribute these products.” The government proposed similar rules in August 2014, but many observers believed it might change position after repeated losses on the mandate issue at the Supreme Court. However, the government forged ahead and finalized rules requiring non-profit employers to help it distribute contraceptive drugs and devices. Apples. Oranges. One report is a PR release. And the other from the Times is, well, what is it precisely? The Times team has made progress in its attempts to admit that there is another side in these debates and, even, that it has "some" wins in courts. But is the legal war really over? What about the headline on this piece? Is it too simplistic? Courts Support Obama’s Contraceptive Policy, but Challenges Remain Shouldn't that be. "Some courts support Obama's Contraceptive Policy, some of the time"?
And the Baltimore Hobby Lobby angle is ... the Little Sisters
Little Sisters of the Poor All news is local. That's one of the first laws that journalists quote whenever we try to explain what is and what isn't news to those outside the profession. In other words, when editors rank stories -- deciding what goes on A1, for example -- one of the main factors that they take into account is whether an event or trend hits close to home for their own readers. What's the local angle? With that in mind, it isn't all that surprising that The Baltimore Sun was the rare newspaper that dedicated a rather sizable chunk of its Hobby Lobby decision story to the Little Sisters of the Poor and to religious liberty issues linked to Obamacare that, apparently, remain to be resolved. Many newspapers forgot the Sisters altogether, but not the newspaper that lands in my front yard. Why the stress on the status of doctrinally defined non-profit ministries that are still protesting the Health and Human Services mandate on a variety of contraceptive services? That's easy to explain. In a 5-4 ruling, the court's conservatives found that the requirement for contraceptive coverage tied to Obama's signature health care law ran afoul of a 1993 law expanding religious freedom. The decision, written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., could have implications not only for secular companies but also religious organizations that are seeking a more complete exemption from the same requirement, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catonsville-based Catholic charity. In other words, (all together now): All news is local. So what is the nature of the HHS mandate objections that remain for many religious ministries? Here is how the Sun took that on: ... (The) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services limited the scope of the requirement for some religiously affiliated organizations, such as hospitals and universities. Those groups are not required to pay for contraceptive coverage themselves if they sign a form stating their objection. Employees of those groups may continue to receive coverage for birth control, but it is paid for by the insurance companies -- and in some cases the government -- not the employer. Catholic groups, including the Little Sisters, have argued that the act of signing the form -- and passing the responsibility off to an insurance company -- makes them complicit in violating their religious doctrine. The group's case could come before the Supreme Court as soon as next year. That isn't bad, yet it is incomplete. There are those who sincerely doubt that insurance companies will resist the temptation to simply pass these costs along to religious ministries in the form of raised rates or vague fees. In other words, there is more to this question than whether religious believers are asked to sign what they see as an offensive piece of government paperwork that may or may not pass the buck to someone else. Meanwhile, the Sun did try to get other insights into the Hobby Lobby decision and its links to religious groups. Bravo for the attempt. In his decision Monday, Alito specifically pointed to the arrangement groups like Little Sisters operate under as an attempt by the administration to "respect the religious liberty of religious nonprofits corporations while ensuring that the employees of these entities have precisely the same access" to contraception. A Little Sisters spokeswoman referred questions to the group's attorneys. Daniel Blomberg, legal counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty -- which represents both Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters -- said the court was only using the situation with the nonprofits as an example of an arrangement that was less restrictive and was not endorsing the idea. Alito specifically wrote that the court was not rendering an opinion on the approach. "The question is will the government continue coming after Little Sisters of the Poor even after this decision," Blomberg said. In a statement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the decision "clearly did not decide whether the so-called 'accommodation' violates" the law. Should more newspapers have included this kind of material in their coverage of the Hobby Lobby decision? Should more editors pursue this angle in follow-up coverage in the days ahead. Well, that depends on whether their "local" marketplace includes one of the dozens and dozens of religious schools and ministries that are still fighting the White House "accommodation" that their leaders do not believe is a true accommodation. Editors might want to check that out. chunk of its Hobby Lobby decision story to the Little Sisters of the Poor and to religious liberty
Obamacare case: RNS reports both sides, though little on those in between
Little Sisters of the Poor Yaayyy! Someone remembered that there are two sides (at least) to a controversy! And it's not Normal, Moderate Americans vs. Those Nuts on the Right! The Religion News Service does the right thing in a newsfeature about "two 20-something Christians, both motivated by faith," who were found in counter-demonstrations outside the U.S. Supreme Court. At issue is that long-smoldering battle over Obamacare: whether it can require religious groups to provide contraceptives that they believe will cause abortions and kill embryonic humans. The Little Sisters of the Poor, along with six other plaintiffs, have taken the feds to court over the matter. The Supreme Court is expected to rule by summer or earlier. For such a story, many mainstream media would have tried a blend of what tmatt calls the Frame Game and the Two Armies approach. On the liberal side, they'd single out a young, stylish, articulate woman. Her conservative opposition would likely be a middle-aged, overweight male who used bad grammar. Instead of such cheap devices, the RNS article chooses two young female college students -- both of them even named Katie -- each spelling out sincere beliefs. It shows respect for both, allowing us readers to make up our own minds. Here is how we are introduced to Katie Stone and Katie Breslin: Stone, 20, a freshman at Oklahoma Wesleyan University, said she must stand with the Little Sisters of the Poor, one of seven plaintiffs suing the Obama administration in the case. "They are being told that they have to provide life-ending drugs and life-ending processes that we don’t even believe in," she said. "That doesn’t seem like religious freedom at all, because we’re being told to support something that we don’t believe in." Breslin, 24, who moved to Washington, D.C., from her native Pennsylvania to attend Trinity Washington University, a Catholic women’s college, said the federal government has offered sufficient accommodations for the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious groups that don’t want to comply with the mandate. The wrong ruling in the case would threaten the rights of women to the contraceptives that are such a key part of their health care, she said. "My faith, my Catholicism, has brought me to my pro-choice activism. I can’t see one without the other," said Breslin, who chairs the Women’s Information Network, a forum of young Democratic women who support abortion rights. "I believe each person has the right to make decisions based on their consciences. My conscience and my decision to use birth control are based on my faith." I also like how RNS spells out Breslin's Catholic affiliation, then summarizes the tension between the teachings of the Church and practices of the laity: The Roman Catholic Church in which Breslin was raised rejects all forms of artificial birth control, though as many Catholic as non-Catholic American women — upward of 98 percent of those of childbearing age — will use it within their lifetimes. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic order that cares for the elderly, is the face of Zubik v. Burwell, and many of the Little Sisters gathered outside the court to cheer with crowds holding signs that said of the contraception mandate, "I’ll have nun of it." Would have been nice to give the source for that 98 percent figure, though. RNS steps away from the picket lines enough to talk to one of the Little Sisters of the Poor. It's a worthwhile little trip, because the Sisters have a distinct objection to Obama's healthcare mandate: The nuns object not just to the mandate, but the way in which the government would exempt them from it: by having them sign a form or inform their insurer that it violates their religious beliefs. That act could trigger a process that gives the responsibility to cover birth control to a third party. Sister Veronica Susan, a Little Sister who came from Philadelphia to Washington to explain her views on the mandate, said waiving out of it still makes the sisters complicit. "It’s really not our faith to do such a thing," she said. "When something is waived, you are consenting. For us, we can’t just sign anything off. We have to be who we are, or we are not really authentic." That is indeed a fine-tuned ethic that deserved space. I'm glad RNS gave it some. I have only a couple issues with this otherwise fine article. One is the lack of space for opinions in the middle. Between all contraceptives and no contraceptives, there is of course a broad range of viewpoints. RNS acknowledges this: "Some of the other six plaintiffs in the case don’t object to providing all the contraception the Affordable Care Act requires insurers to offer, but just those that could -- in their view -- induce abortion." The article also cites the so-called Hobby Lobby case, in which the store chain's owners objected only to measures that caused abortions. But in the current case, RNS doesn't quote any of those other six plaintiffs. Doesn't even name them. Still another is -- and this is admittedly tricky -- the different viewpoints of the schools that the two young demonstrators attend. Neither website addresses the issue directly. However, the student handbook of Oklahoma Wesleyan, Katie Stone's school, prohibits "sleeping with or having sexual intercourse with a person other than one’s lawful spouse." That pretty much obviates the reason most students would want birth control. Trinity is even more general than that. The most direct reference I saw in the web material was a health advisory that said oral contraceptives can cause migraines. But my GetReligion colleague Julie Duin says it's a pretty standard, secularized liberal arts school, true to this 2008 article. Also, in 2014, university president Patricia McGuire told America magazine that the student body was only about 15 percent Catholic. The difference? Well, Katie Stone, based on her school's culture, wants autonomy for individual organizations in healthcare provided under their auspices. Katie Breslin, based on her school's culture, says that healthcare is a universal right. The RNS article hints at this difference, but doesn't really bring it out. I found an irony in a column by Patricia A. McGuire, Trinity's president, after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. She hoped the next pope would send "more progressive signals on such topics as respect for religious women" and favor "welcoming women into more Church roles." Three years after that column, one of her students was arguing for federal power over a women's religious order. At least McGuire's column also called for "allowing the expression of differences of opinion without fear." RNS does the same in this article. Kudos. abortions and kill embryonic humans. The Little Sisters of the Poor, along with six other
Who gets to define 'sin'? Press caught up in debate over a narrow freedom of 'worship'
Little Sisters of the Poor Long ago, the mid-1980s to be precise, I covered a Colorado dispute involving religious freedom. The spark that lit the fuse was a state tax official's decision to rule that the "worship" that took place inside church doors was "religious," and thus tax exempt, while what happened inside non-profit religious ministries (think day-care centers) was not truly "religious." This claim produced a scream of legal rage from leaders in religious denominations and groups, both on the left and right. Everyone agreed that state officials had no right to get entangled (there is that word again) in determining what was "religious" and what was not (outside the usual limits of fraud, profit and clear threat to life and health). The state was not supposed to decide that "worship" was religious, while caring for children (and teaching them Bible lessons) was not. Obviously, America has evolved since then, especially on issues linked to the doctrines of the Sexual Revolution. The latest round of Obamacare debates at the U.S. Supreme Court seemed to have focused on this question: Can churches and other houses of worship decide what is "sin" for members of their voluntary associations, while doctrinally defined ministries and schools cannot make this kind of ruling? I would add to that last sentence: These religious ministries and schools cannot defend their own doctrines defining "sin," even for employees and/or students who have -- to join this religious association -- voluntarily signed covenants in which they promise to live by these doctrines (or at least not to publicly attack them). In other words, the state now gets to define what is "sin" for these employees/students, not the doctrinally defined ministries and schools they have voluntarily joined. I cannot find a mainstream news report about this Obamacare debate that even mentions these doctrinal covenants, so it is safe to assume (a) that journalists do not know (or care) that they exist or (b) that the freedom to form voluntary associations no longer applies to religious groups, outside of actual houses of worship. How do you read this passage from The New York Times, containing a key quote from Justice Anthony Kennedy? On this point, at least, Justice Kennedy seemed to take the government’s side. “It’s going to be very difficult for this court to write an opinion which says that once you have a church organization” entitled to an exemption, “you have to treat a religious university the same.” That's a highly relevant statement, since the "Little Sisters of the Poor" case actually involves dozens of religious ministries and schools, grouped in seven cases -- Zubik v. Burwell, Priests for Life v. Department of HHS, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington v. Burwell, East Texas Baptist University v. Burwell, Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Burwell, Southern Nazarene University v. Burwell and Geneva College v. Burwell. Here is a question for journalists covering this case, linked to a point that I can guarantee was made during the long debates inside the U.S. Supreme Court: Is the court essentially being asked to rule that the First Amendment now protects "freedom of worship," but not the "free exercise of religion"? You can see shadows of this "freedom of worship" vs. "freedom of religion" clash in many mainstream news accounts of this case. Elsewhere in the Times piece there is this: Paul D. Clement, a lawyer for the order of nuns the Little Sisters of the Poor and other challengers, said his clients should be entitled to the outright exemption offered to houses of worship like churches, temples and mosques. Houses of worship do not have to file any paperwork if they choose not to provide contraception coverage. You can see the doctrinal covenant issue lurking near the top of The Los Angeles Times piece: The Supreme Court justices sounded evenly split Wednesday when asked to strike a balance between a Catholic nonprofit's right to religious liberty and its female workers' ability to obtain the free birth control promised under President Obama's healthcare law. This leads to: Dozens of religious nonprofits, including evangelical colleges and charities such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, are suing the Obama administration over the so-called contraceptive mandate, adopted during implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The administration is defending the mandate, warning that tens of thousands of women who work for religious nonprofits and charities could be left without the contraceptives or forced to pay for the cost themselves. But what if those women had voluntarily signed documents in which they vowed to support a set of doctrines that included behavior -- think "sin," again -- linked to these issues, such as sex outside of marriage? Is the state, in effect, asking these religious non-profits and schools to cooperate in efforts to undercut their own doctrinal covenants? This no longer appears to be a relevant question. Or was this issue raised in the court, but not included in the news coverage? I would still like to know. And as The Washington Post coverage did note, this is not an issue that applies to a narrow slice of Catholic and evangelical Protestant organizations. This could be seen in comments by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. Said Alito, “This is a case in which a great array of religious groups -- and it’s not just Catholics and Baptists and evangelicals but Orthodox Jews, Muslim groups, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, an Indian tribe, the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye -- have said that this presents an unprecedented threat to religious liberty in this country.” And the chief justice added that: ... The "administration’s compromise still required groups to take actions that they think violate their beliefs. “They think that complicity is sinful,” Roberts said. Ah, but do the leaders of these doctrinally defined ministries and schools still have the power, under the First Amendment, do define what is "sin" for the members of their own voluntary associations? Was this question asked in court? If so, journalists didn't notice.
AP's coverage of Obamacare and sisters' court case: It's a tall 'order'
Press tries to give the sisters a fair hearing. How successful is the question here. The story is about Bishops and Hobby Lobby got sneers in mainstream media for fighting Obamacare, but a knot of nuns seems to be drawing more respectful coverage. Even in its flawed story this week, the Associated Press tries to give the sisters a fair hearing. How successful is the question here. The story is about the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order that has been in the U.S. since 1868, specializing in care for the elderly. The nuns and their attorneys, from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, were in Denver on Monday, arguing their case in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Most of the Sisters are elderly, but they have younger employees -- and the Obama administration wants the order, like other organizations, to provide contraceptives. As Catholics, of course, the sisters say that would violate their beliefs. After a few high-profile lawsuits with other groups, the Obama administration has rewritten the regulations to allow exemptions to churches. But the newest rewrite is still a problem, AP says: The groups don't have to cover such contraceptives, as most insurers must. But they have to tell the government they object on religious grounds in order to get an exemption. They argued Monday that because they must sign away coverage to another party, the exemption makes them complicit in providing contraceptives. "It is morally problematic" to sign the forms, argued Greg Baylor, lawyer for Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma. That, in my opinion, is a pretty cursory explanation. Especially after AP said the sisters argue "that the government hasn't gone far enough to ensure they don't have to violate their beliefs." And that "even opting out violates those beliefs." Makes 'em sound like demanding, self-righteous li'l sisters. You get a clearer picture from 7 News Denver: The nuns with Little Sisters of the Poor are able to opt out of covering birth control on their employee health plans because they are a religious nonprofit. At issue is a form they must sign to opt out that then allows a third party administrator to supply birth control on the nun's health plan. "What the government has done, and this is a strange thing to do, is said the only way we'll accept you saying, 'I object,' is if, on the same piece of paper, you modify your plan to give someone authority to give out the drugs on your plan," said the Sisters' attorney Mark Rienzi, with the Becket Fund For Religious Liberty. He said signing the form makes the nuns complicit in providing birth control which violates their religious beliefs. For some reason, AP didn't even see the need to name the order, even though the news agency could have found out on the Becket Fund website itself. There's an even handier bite-size paragraph below a promotional video on YouTube: The Little Sisters of the Poor are an international Roman Catholic Congregation of women Religious founded in 1839 by St. Jeanne Jugan. They operate homes in 31 countries, where they provide loving care for over 13,000 needy elderly persons. AP could have dropped that into the story with very little editing. Its omission is a rather glaring error for a report that was carried by so many news outlets around the nation. So why am I not bashing the article altogether? Because AP does try to be fair. It quotes a lawyer for Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma, another plaintiff. It also gets a representative for the U.S. Department of Justice to deny that the new rules overburden the Little Sisters. AP gets points, too, with four paragraphs of background. Those include court cases against Obamacare's birth control mandate and who else was in court in Denver over the mandate. The article also says why the nuns were being pressured when Obama already added a religious exemption: Churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the birth control requirement, but affiliated institutions that serve the general public are not. That includes charitable organizations, universities and hospitals. And to my surprise, AP even gets a quote from one of the three appellate judges. Judge Bobby Baldock asked why the exemption process burdens religious groups when the form essentially tells the government, "You can go pound sand because we don't condone it, we don't agree with it." Baldock seemed perplexed about why the government needs any form at all from religious objectors. "You already know that the (nuns) raised their hands and said, 'We're not going to do this,' " Baldock said. Sounds like we know how at least one of the judges will vote. Photo: The Little Sisters of the Poor outside the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals before oral argument on December 8, 2014. Far Left: Larry Hansen of Locklord, LLP and Daniel Blomberg of the Becket Fund; Far right: William Mumma, president of the Becket Fund. Credit: The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty   the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order that has been in the U.S. since 1868, specializing in care
Hobby Lobby in narrow win; Little Sisters of the Poor on deck
So why are the Little Sisters of the Poor at the top of this post as the tsunami of Hobby Lobby So why are the Little Sisters of the Poor at the top of this post as the tsunami of Hobby Lobby coverage continues? Hang on. So far, the mainstream press coverage of today's U.S. Supreme Court decision (.pdf here) has been rather good. In particular, there has been a shockingly low rate of scare quotes around terms such as "religious liberty" and "religious freedom," almost certainly because this case -- in the eyes of the 5-4 majority -- pivoted on issues linked to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a major 1993 win for the old church-state liberalism of the past (RIP). However, note the very interesting scare quotes in the following reaction statement from Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chair of the bishops’ committee for Religious Liberty. “We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize that Americans can continue to follow their faith when they run a family business. In this case, justice has prevailed, with the Court respecting the rights of the Green and Hahn families to continue to abide by their faith in how they seek their livelihood, without facing devastating fines. Now is the time to redouble our efforts to build a culture that fully respects religious freedom. “The Court clearly did not decide whether the so-called ‘accommodation’ violates RFRA when applied to our charities, hospitals and schools, so many of which have challenged it as a burden on their religious exercise. We continue to hope that these great ministries of service, like the Little Sisters of the Poor and so many others, will prevail in their cases as well.” The key word is, of course, "accommodation." In other words, the court did not deal with the Little Sisters of the Poor and appears to have left a door open for the White House to ask Hobby Lobby and other family-owned corporations to settle for the same "accommodation" it has offered to doctrinally defined religious non-profits, ministries and schools. The basic idea is that religious believers will not have to pay for services that they believe are damnable and heretical because the government will ask their insurance providers to provide these services for free (without quietly raising the rates to cover the cost). I think major news organizations did fine with Hobby Lobby details, in part, because it was seen primarily as an extension of the whole "corporations are people too" political battles of recent years. Thus, the family-owned corporations have religious liberty rights, while massive impersonal corporations (none of which have sought exemptions) have not. What about the doctrinally defined non-profits, the second level of this church-state fight that many journalists tend to miss? Remember that New York Times report in 2013 noting that the White House has "excluded many religious organizations from the law’s requirements"? As I wrote at the time: The key word in that passage is “many,” as in the statement that the Obama White House has “excluded many religious organizations from the law’s requirements.” The implication -- an accurate one -- is that there are many religious organizations that have not been excluded from the law’s requirements. The Times story will lead most readers to assume that this is a conflict with two levels -- for-profit groups (status unknown) vs. non-profit religious organizations (already protected). The reality in the HHS mandate is more complex than that, drawing a line between religious groups that are protected by a freedom of “worship” and those that no longer enjoy a full protection in the name of religious liberty. So what happened in today's report from the College of Cardinals at the Times? You can feel the conflict right in the lede: The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act violated a federal law protecting religious freedom. It was, the dissent said, “a decision of startling breadth.” The 5-to-4 ruling, which applied to two companies owned by Christian families, opened the door to challenges from other corporations over laws that they claim violate their religious liberty. The "startling breadth" reference is interesting, since the modern world is not dominated by conservative family-owned corporations. Still, many readers in the Times reader silo will certainly find it appropriate to put the dissent right in the lede, ahead of any quotes from the majority opinion. And what about the Little Sisters of the Poor? Actually, the Times team notes that it was Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. who brought up the "accommodation" option. Justice Alito said he accepted for the sake of argument that the government had a compelling interest in making sure women have access to contraception. But he said there were ways of doing that without violating the companies’ religious rights. The government could pay for the coverage, he said. Or it could employ the accommodation already in use for certain nonprofit religious organizations, one requiring insurance companies to provide the coverage. The majority did not go so far as to endorse the accommodation. And later: A federal judge has estimated that a third of Americans are not subject to the requirement that their employers provide coverage for contraceptives. Small employers need not offer health coverage at all; religious employers like churches are exempt; religiously affiliated groups may claim an exemption; and some insurance plans that had not previously offered the coverage are grandfathered in. And what about that exemption option? Are doctrinally defined ministries, non-profits and schools happy with that? The Washington Post did mention, sort of, that bitterly contested issue: He said government could simply provide the service itself. Or it could give such businesses an accommodation like the one provided for religious-oriented, not-for-profit corporations (which is also under legal challenge). Those groups can certify their objections and have the group insurer or third-party administrator take on the responsibility of paying for the birth control. I will continue to watch the coverage, as always focusing on the most intense religious themes in the debate. In particular, I would be interested in knowing if GetReligion readers noticed any mainstream reports that quoted the following shot from the court majority at some of the logic of the dissent. The logic there: ... (D)odges the question that RFRA presents (whether the HHS mandate imposes a substantial burden on the ability of the objecting parties to conduct business in accordance with their religious beliefs) and instead addresses a very different question that the federal courts have no business addressing (whether the religious belief asserted in a RFRA case is reasonable). The Hahns and Greens believe that providing the coverage demanded by the HHS regulations is connected to the destruction of an embryo in a way that is sufficient to make it immoral for them to provide the coverage. This belief implicates difficult and important question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is wrong for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facilitating the Hobby Lobby in narrow win; Little Sisters of the Poor on deck
Entangled in doctrine? Will journalists even mention a key fact in HHS mandate cases?
Little Sisters of the Poor covenants that they signed in order to join these faith-based communities? Do the Little Sisters of the Poor need Archdiocese of Washington and another from an order called the Little Sisters of the Poor, which make that choice. And does anyone HAVE to work for the Little Sisters of the Poor? Is it appropriate
The Little Sisters of the Poor are happy; headline writers (Cue: audible sigh) are not
The Little Sisters of the Poor are happy; headline writers (Cue: audible sigh) are not Little Sisters of the Poor Little Sisters of the Poor. On the other hand, the court ruled that “nothing in this opinion, or in . Rienzi, a lawyer with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents a charity of nuns called that Will. Make. This. Stuff. Go. Away. This brings me, of course, to the Little Sisters of the Poor and that some justices believe that a compromise is possible that pleases the Little Sisters of the Poor. If . Away. This brings me, of course, to the Little Sisters of the Poor and the ongoing efforts by the
Attention editors: Is there a 'Little Sisters' case in your area?
Little Sisters of the Poor
Papal visit takeaway: Why did Pope Francis need to hug hicks and old-school nuns?
Little Sisters of the Poor Little Sisters of the Poor, who are at the heart of another major religious-liberty war with the despise. He embraced that hick. Oh, and he quietly met with old-school -- thus bad -- nuns too, as in the
Gorsuch nomination rumble underscores need for religion writers to understand Constitutional law
aid when programs are religiously “neutral.” (2) As with Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor, claims Little Sisters of the Poor joined the court minority that backed similar claims from the Little Sisters of the Poor. A bit of
Washington Post ignores a crucial fact, as HHS mandate cases head to high court
choice. And does anyone have to work for the Little Sisters of the Poor? Is it appropriate for the Little Sisters of the Poor join these faith-based communities? Do the Little Sisters of the Poor need to help their own
Of all the contraceptive mandate stories out there, very few quoted religious folks
.” The rules were also welcomed by groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman reaction by the nuns in the Little Sisters of the Poor lawsuit that challenged the Obama administration represents the Little Sisters of the Poor. “We’ve been on a long, divisive culture war because the ? Again, the groups at the heart of this standoff -- think the Little Sisters of the Poor -- are faith
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