A broad base of organizations, including three Rabbis, have filed amicus briefs asking the Supreme Court to place Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell on its docket for the coming year, saying that the case contains elements essential to religious liberty. Plaintiffs claim that the present protocols of the Affordable Care Act force them to be a party to the delivery of medical services that violate their beliefs.
“There are two main issues being raised,” Daniel Bromberg of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the firm representing the Little Sisters, told Hamodia. “One that is very well emphasized by the Rabbis’ brief is that the [United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit] told the nuns that their beliefs were wrong. They made their own compliancy judgment, which is particularly dangerous for minority religious groups.”
He said the second major argument is that the Sisters claim they are the victims of discrimination, as the government has exempted other religious organizations from compliance with the healthcare mandate, but ruled that the services the nuns provide in their care for the aged and ailing poor is too secular in nature to receive this treatment.
The government has allowed thousands of businesses such as Pepsi and Exxon not to adopt “Obamacare” for reasons of convenience. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the Hobby Lobby store chain was protected from compliance based on religious objections. In the wake of this ruling, the administration made an accommodation for religious objectors to provide the services in question through a third party. Most organizations have accepted the arrangement, but several Catholic groups, including the Sisters, feel that this level of involvement still violates their beliefs.
The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected their claim earlier this summer, and they are now applying for certiorari, permission for their case to be heard by the Supreme Court.
“The problem here is not the government’s right to override an objection; this is not a recipe for anarchy,” said Mr. Bromberg. “This is about trying to dodge RFRA [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act].”
Under RFRA, the government must show a “compelling interest” in order to force individuals or organizations to act against their religious beliefs or penalize them for not doing so. Mr. Bromberg said that by denying the legitimacy of the Sisters’ objection, they were avoiding proving this interest.
The document Mr. Bromberg referred to as “the Rabbis’ brief” was submitted by Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin, who has led several congregations and served as a military chaplain; Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Congregation Bnei Jeshurun of Teaneck, N.J.; and Rabbi Dov Fischer of Cong. Beth Jacob of Irvine, California. All three are leaders in the Rabbinical Council of America.
“A rule allowing courts to second-guess religious adherents’ religious beliefs in that manner is extremely dangerous to religious minorities like Orthodox Jews,” attorney Howie Slugh, who prepared the brief, told Hamodia. “Most judges will be unfamiliar with our practices and would very likely misinterpret halachah and misjudge the importance of many specific halachot.”
Mr. Slugh mentioned a statement by a judge on the Federal Fifth Circuit where he cited a hypothetical rule requiring citizens to turn on a light every day as an example of a law that could never require a religious exemption.
“The judge did not mean to offend Jews; he simply did not know or understand the laws of Shabbos,” he said.
Another point emphasized by Mr. Slugh was the court’s decision to define “substantial burden,” the language mentioned in RFRA, as a significant religious offense. In recent religious liberty cases, the Supreme Court has said that “a law substantially burdens religious exercise when it requires a sincerely religious person to sin or face a substantial penalty.”
Briefs were also submitted by a group of attorneys general from 20 states, and several religious and secular organizations.