Smith: Supreme Court Must Stop the Government’s Coercion
“The wide-reaching impact of the Court's ruling in the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor cannot be overstated,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), in anticipation of Wednesday’s oral arguments before the Supreme Court in a landmark case for religious liberty (Zubik v. Burwell).
“The question before the Court is really quite simple: Can the government coerce the Little Sisters of the Poor and other people of faith to violate their conscience?” Smith asked. “The Obama administration is telling these religious sisters, women who have given their life in service to God by taking care of the elderly poor, that their conscience is irrelevant and that they must follow the Federal Government's conscience rather than their own."
Rep. Smith joined a bipartisan group of over 200 Members of the House and Senate in signing an amicus curiae brief asking the Supreme Court to protect the rights of religious non-profit organizations.
“This abuse of government power is absolutely antithetical to the American principle of freedom of religion and the First Amendment,” Smith said. “Unless reversed, Obama's attack on conscience rights means that government can impose discrimination against Americans who seek to live according to their faith.”
The Little Sisters have 30 homes for the elderly across the United States. Smith noted that each Little Sister takes a vow of obedience to God and vow of hospitality “to care for the aged as if they were Christ Himself.”
“The Obama administration is dictating to the Little Sisters and others about how they should interpret their own religious beliefs. That, in a word, is outrageous,” Smith said. “The Sisters object to having their healthcare plans used to funnel drugs and devices to which they have a moral objection, including drugs that could even destroy a young human life. The Sisters say that facilitating the provision of these items is a violation of their religious beliefs, and the government is saying: ‘No, it isn't. We know better than you.’”
Under the Obama administration's coercive mandate, the Little Sisters and other religious organizations, like Priests for Life and Geneva College, are put in the impossible situation of being forced to violate their religious beliefs or face Obama-imposed, crippling fines of $100 per day per employee. In the case of the Little Sisters, that would mean about $70 million per year.
“This obscene penalty is completely unfair, unreasonable, and unconscionable. The Obama administration is saying: We will punish you; we will hurt you; we will stop you from serving, unless you provide health care according to the government's conscience, not your own. President Obama has no business imposing his morality on people of faith, but that is exactly what this oppressive mandate does,” Smith said. “Let's make no mistake about it, this mandate is very much Obama's willful intention. The imposition of this attack on religious freedom is no accident. It comes straight from the pages of ObamaCare.”
In December of 2009, in the run-up to passage of ObamaCare, Senator Barbara Mikulski (MD) offered an amendment which provided the authorizing language for the oppressive mandate. When President Obama spoke in 2009 at Notre Dame University—which has also filed suit over the mandate—he said he would draft a “sensible conscience clause.”
“Today, protection of conscience is another highly visible broken promise of ObamaCare,” Smith said. “The Supreme Court has a duty to protect the right of the Little Sisters of the Poor and others to live according to their conscience, to ensure that they serve the elderly poor according to their conscience.”
Elected in 1980, Smith is a senior member of Congress and longtime advocate for human rights around the world.