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Government & Politics

Nuns Defeat Obama in Court

Not a complete victory, but a big one nonetheless.

Paul Albaugh · May 17, 2016

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of religious liberty Monday and handed yet another defeat to Barack Obama. In light of all the insanity with transgenderism and bathrooms in recent weeks, this comes as great news for Little Sisters of the Poor and others who “bitterly cling” to deeply held religious beliefs and the Constitution. To be sure, Obama has had a bad run with the courts lately, having lost on ObamaCare last week and received numerous rebukes for EPA regulations. His immigration actions also ran aground in lower courts, and may likewise end in a Supreme Court loss.

For the Little Sisters, the High Court’s ruling is a huge victory, giving them the ability to operate under their religious convictions. Further, the ruling means that they will not have to pay $70 million in fines per year for not complying with ObamaCare’s onerous contraceptive mandate.

As Roger Severino and Elizabeth Slattery of the Heritage Foundation note, “[T]he Supreme Court now says that ‘the government may not impose taxes or penalties on petitioners for failure to provide the relevant notice.’ This is precisely what the Little Sisters of the Poor have been asking for as relief.” Further, it means that “all the lower court opinions that went against the religious freedom of the Little Sisters of the Poor and the other religious nonprofits are wiped away and their flawed reasoning cannot be used as precedent in the future.”

To clarify, the Supreme Court in its unanimous decision did not rule on the merits of the case, meaning that the case will be kicked back to the lower courts for further consideration. Further, the Court did not rule on whether the law addresses a compelling state interest. Yet while it seems like the court punted this case, it really didn’t.

National Review’s David French highlights why: “First, the Supreme Court vacated the lower court ruling holding that the Little Sisters had to facilitate access to contraceptives and [denying] that the mandate substantially burdened their religion. When the court vacates a ruling that you’re challenging, that’s a win. Second, the Supreme Court provided a roadmap for an excellent resolution to the case — by outlining the accommodation it suggested, the Little Sisters endorsed, and the government reluctantly agreed to.”

Moreover, the Court’s decision was unanimous, while most political analysts expected a 4-4 split that would have allowed a ruling against the Little Sisters to stand. Given the context of this case, it’s the second time the Supreme Court has pushed back against Obama’s regulatory efforts to restrict religious liberty, and this case is another setback for Obama’s contraception/abortifacient mandate.

Unfortunately, from a strategic viewpoint, Obama has accomplished a lot in pushing for left-wing causes, and in doing so, he has tied up conservative resources beating back his advances. In all of his mandates, edicts and overreaches, he moves the needle further left and takes credit for doing so. He creates a political issue out of everything, and faithful leftists everywhere will defend him and demand even more.

The contraception mandate that he imposed on religious organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor was never really about providing contraception, it was about power.

After the Court’s ruling, Obama spun the decision, saying, “The practical effect is, right now, that women will still continue to be able to get contraception if they are getting health insurance.”

“Be able to get”? Translation: Most Americans will still be mandated to buy health insurance from companies that are forced to provide certain benefits. Obama also insisted that his administration is already “properly accommodating religious institutions who have objections to contraception.” That’s because the Court has in essence ruled that Obama can’t violate their objections.

So while this was not a decisive victory in the courts, it is nevertheless a significant win for Little Sisters of the Poor, their petitioners and ultimately for religious liberty. Perhaps slowly chipping away at ObamaCare mandates will lead to full repeal of it. Maybe that’s wishful thinking, but it’s at least a step in the right direction.

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