The U.S. Supreme Court held its first religious liberty case on Wednesday to determine if a Christian organization must provide contraception under the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.
The case, entitled Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, involves the Little Sisters of the Poor, an international religious organization that has been active since 1839.
"They are an order of Catholic nuns who serve the elderly poor and dying - truly the most vulnerable among us, especially in the midst of this pandemic," said senior counsel Diana Verm from the Becket religious rights legal group which is helping to defend them.
The Catholic News Agency reports that the Little Sisters, who have been in a seven-year-long legal battle over the contraceptive mandate, were victorious over the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 and were issued a religious exemption from the mandate by the Trump administration in 2017.
The exemption, however, was challenged in court by State attorneys general for Pennsylvania and California.
Last July, The Little Sisters lost their cases against Pennsylvania at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and last October against California at the Ninth Circuit Court.
As such, the group appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed in January to hear their case.
The May 6 case was initially scheduled for April 29, but it was postponed by the court “in keeping with public health guidance in response to COVID-19.”
Verm told CBN News these states are "telling the federal government that they have to force nuns to provide contraceptives."
She added, "The states are arguing that the government doesn't have the authority to issue religious exemptions. And that really threatens our nation's rich history of protecting religious minorities by protecting their religious beliefs."
A loss would be costly to the Little Sisters with penalties of 60 to 70 million dollars a year.
"Those are annual fines," explained Verm. "It's a hundred dollars per employee per day."
Due to the pandemic, the U.S. Supreme Court started the new practice of telephone conferencing on Monday, May 4 which is live-streamed worldwide.
Nevertheless, it was business as usual as Supreme Court Marshal Pamela Talkan opened with the familiar words, "Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the honorable Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this honorable court."
The biggest rulings are typically given by the justices throughout May and June before closing out the current term on the 4th of July.
COVID-19, however, has caused the Court to postpone some of its hearings which would mean rulings on cases such as the Little Sisters will not be announced until July or August.
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Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.