Nuns serving the elderly and poor launch Obamacare lawsuit

A group of nuns dedicated to serving the poor and the elderly, just as supporters claim Obamacare will do, has filed the first class-action lawsuit against the Obama administration for its signature health-care reform law.

The Little Sisters of the Poor is a 170-year-old Roman Catholic convent that cares for 13,000 elderly people in poverty all over the world. The thirty homes the Little Sisters run in the U.S. will soon be required to subsidize their employees’ access to abortion, contraception and other items that violate Catholic teachings. If they fail to comply, steep Internal Revenue Service fines will force the Little Sisters out of service.

Confronted with religious liberty arguments, the Obama administration did grant waivers to some religious employers. But that exemption would only apply to denominations themselves, not necessarily non-church organizations with a faith-based mission or even religious communities such as the Little Sisters.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed the class-action lawsuit on behalf of the Little Sisters and is hoping to win them an exemption from the mandate. The Becket Fund is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that focuses on the free expression of all religions.

Mark Rienzi, the Little Sisters’ lead counsel at the Becket Fund, said the nuns should be allowed to continue their work with an exemption as religious employers.

“The money they collect should be used to care for the poor like it always has — and not to pay the IRS,” Rienzi argued.

But even a wider exemption doesn’t satisfy all opponents of the mandate that believe it violates religious liberty. Domino’s pizza founder Thomas Monaghan notably filed a lawsuit against the mandate in 2012.

The Obama administration has denied any exemptions from the mandate to for-profit companies, like Monaghan’s current venture, Domino Farms. Unlike the Little Sisters, who are just looking to continue their practice, Monaghan’s lawsuit seeks to overturn the mandate itself.

Monaaghan argues that all individuals and institutions should be able to follow their consciences in this area, not just churches.

The Becket Fund’s class-action lawsuit is the first of its kind against the Obama administration’s mandate, including not only the Little Sisters but “hundreds of Catholic non-profits ministries with similar beliefs,” the nonprofit announced.

The Becket Fund also represents the Hobby Lobby, a for-profit business owned by Christians who believe the contraception mandate violates their freedom of conscience.

Hobby Lobby’s case and a lawsuit brought by plaintiff Conestoga Wood Specialties, another Christian-run for-profit company, were referred to the Supreme Court Sept. 19. The court has not yet decided whether it will hear the cases.

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