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Supreme Court Grants Reprieve to Little Sisters & Christian Bros.

SotomayorSupreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered an eleventh-hour reprieve to the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Christian Brothers from having to provide contraceptive coverage to employees by January 1 or face stiff fines.

CNN is reporting that Justice Sotomayor exempted a Denver-based congregation of the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Illiniois-based Christian Brothers from the law which would have required them to either provide contraceptive coverage to their employees or arrange for a third-party insurer to do so. Both congregations objected, saying that the law is forcing them to violate their deeply held religious beliefs.

Justice Sotomayor gave the government until Friday to file a legal response to her order.

Even though Sotomayor's action was narrowly applied, "it could ultimately impact dozens of religious groups and businesses that have mounted legal challenges in recent months, depending on how the court ultimately handles the matter," CNN reports.

Emergency appeals were also filed on New Year's Eve by Catholic diocese in Michigan, Tennessee and Washington DC but were not acted upon because lower courts had already issued temporary injunctions blocking enforcement. The organizations say the mandate forces them "to choose between onerous penalties or becoming complicit in a grave moral wrong."

A White House official on Wednesday told CNN that the Obama administration was confident  that the mandate "strikes the balance of providing women with free contraceptive coverage while preventing non-profit religious organizations with religious objections to contraceptive coverage from having to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for such coverage."

The issue is expected to come to a head in 2014 when the Supreme Court hears two cases involving for-profit business owners who are objecting to the mandate on religious grounds. Arguments are scheduled for March with a ruling expected by late June.

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