Prayer Alert! HHS Mandate Case at SCOTUS Today!

HHS mandate fightArguments in one of the most pivotal cases of religious liberty in our lifetime will take place this morning when the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case involving 37 religious petitioners who are fighting Affordable Care Act’s controversial “birth control mandate.”

According to The Blaze, the intensity of the moment was felt last night as petitioners met on the steps of the Supreme Court to pray for a favorable outcome from today’s hearings.

“I’m eager about tomorrow,” said Father Frank Pavone, founder of Priests for Life. “I know we have very, very strong arguments, I’ve been reading through all the briefs, all the documents, and every page I read I’m more encouraged by the strength and the simplicity of the arguments. Through all of the thousands of pages, it just boils down to the fact that the government can’t force a believer to violate his faith. Period. That’s it.”

The hearings will involve seven combined cases that include Priests for Life, the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, the Catholic University of America, Southern Nazarene University and dozens of others.  All are arguing that the Affordable Care Act’s mandate requires them to cover health care services such as providing contraceptives and abortifacient drugs that violate their religious beliefs. Even though the government established an “accommodation” for these organizations, they are still required to sign off on a kind of “permission slip” that allows the coverage to be provided, a requirement that the petitioners vigorously oppose.

As Lyle Dennison of SCOTUS Blog explains, at issue in the cases is whether or not the mandate violates a 1993 federal law known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“This is the same law that the Court applied two years ago to protect the religiously devout owners of closely held, for-profit businesses from having to provide birth control under the mandate to their female employees. That was the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores,” Dennison writes.

“The 1993 law . . . bars the government from imposing a ‘substantial burden’ on the exercise of religious beliefs, but allows such burdens if the policy or program is ‘the least restrictive means’ that the government could use to achieve a ‘compelling government interest’.”

The cases landed in the lap of the Supreme Court last year when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit concluded that the “accommodation” provided to these religious entities was not “the least restrictive means” of implementing the contraceptives, Dennison explains.

This decision represented a split from other decisions which ruled in favor of the accommodation, thus setting up today’s Supreme Court battle.

Only eight justices will be present in the courtroom today. Justice Antonin Scalia, a long-standing defender of life, who died suddenly in February, will be sorely missed.

However, his absence raises the possibility that the Court will come to a 4-4 ruling, meaning that whatever decision the lower courts reached would be upheld. Because these rulings differ, it would essentially leave the matter unsettled with women in some areas having free access to these drugs while others would continue to be denied.

This could mean that the case would have to be retried at a later date when a full complement of justices are present.

In any event, these are crucial hours for the faithful who wish to uphold the right to practice their faith freely in the public square.

As Father Pavone said last night in remarks to those who attended the prayer rally, only God deserves our absolute obedience.

“ . . . [W]e’re here tonight not because we oppose government,” he said. “We know that we can be good disciples of Christ, good citizens of Heaven, and at the very same time, good citizens of the United States of America. That’s who we want to be, because following Christ does not mean we fail to acknowledge human authority, it does not mean we fail to acknowledge the authority of that Congress or this court, but brothers and sisters what it also means, is that those who govern us have one who governs them.”

“When there is a conflict, as there so often is, between human mandates and the mandate of the word of God, we stand in a long tradition that says ‘I will obey God rather than men,’” he said.

A decision in today’s case is not expected until June.

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