On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a per curiam opinion in the case of Zubik v. Burwell, in which Catholic and other religious organizations, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, are challenging the HHS mandate requiring them to facilitate health insurance coverage of sterilization, contraception, and drugs and devices that may cause abortions.
The Court unanimously vacated the decisions before it, remanding the cases to the lower courts with instructions to afford the parties the opportunity to work out an alternative approach to the mandate. In the meantime, the Court forbade the government from imposing taxes or penalties on the organizations for failure to provide the required “notice” and “certification” or otherwise to trigger the “accommodation.”
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, offered the following statement in response:
I am encouraged by today’s unanimous decision of the Supreme Court. It wipes away the bad decisions that so many of our charitable ministries were appealing, it maintains hope that we might resolve this dispute finally and favorably sometime in the future, and in the meantime, it prevents the Administration from issuing crippling fines against those who object.
I take this occasion to reiterate the unity and resolve that the bishops of the United States have expressed repeatedly in opposition to the HHS mandate, such as in their Special Message from 2013 and their statement “United for Religious Freedom” from 2012. I also recall the encouragement that we have received from Pope Francis in this regard during his recent apostolic visit to the United States, first by his remarks at the White House, and then by his personal visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Speaking about religious liberty from the White House in September, Pope Francis said “that freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”
In light of this, USCCB will continue its opposition to the HHS mandate in all three branches of government. We are grateful to the Supreme Court for the opportunity to continue that effort. We remain convinced that, as a nation, we do not wish to push people of faith and their ministries out of charitable work – under threat of severe government fines – or leave freedom of religion protected only in private worship.