A group of nuns heads to the US Supreme Court at 10 a.m., Wednesday, May 6, hoping to put an end to a seven-year-long legal battle. It comes at a historic time as fear of the coronavirus has the nine justices of the high court separated and hearing arguments over the phone.
The nuns, known as the Little Sisters of the Poor, want to do nothing more than continue their order's 181-year mission of service.
"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 that's helping to defend them.
Would Force Nuns to Fund Abortion
Their legal trouble began when they defied the Obamacare contraception mandate. That mandate would have forced these pro-life Little Sisters of the Poor to violate their conscience by making them cover abortion-causing contraceptives in their healthcare plan.
The group won at the US Supreme Court in 2016 and received a religious exemption. Now states like Pennsylvania, unhappy with that outcome, are bringing the case back to the high court again.
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."
Nuns Could Face Crippling Fines
If the Little Sisters lose, they could face fines of 60 to 70 million dollars a year.
"Those are annual fines," explained Verm. "It's a hundred dollars per employee per day."
Thanks to social distancing, this will be the first religious liberty case the Supreme Court hears by telephone conferencing. This brand-new practice, which is also letting the whole world listen in LIVE, began Monday, May 4.
Those listening live Monday heard the session kick off with the familiar words of Supreme Court Marshal Pamela Talkin, intoning, "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 justices are usually handing out their biggest rulings during May, and June at the latest, as they wrap up the current term before the 4th of July holiday. But with the pandemic already forcing the Court to hold some of its hearings later than usual, it may also mean they don't announce their ruling on this Little Sisters case, and others, till July… maybe even August.