Right-wing media are misinforming about a recent Supreme Court injunction that allows the non-profit charity Little Sisters of the Poor to continue its objection to the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraception mandate, as they appeal a lower court opinion that rejected their legal challenge.
In its January 24 order, the Court pointed out that the ruling "should not be construed as an expression of the Court's views on the merits." In other words, the nuns haven't won their lawsuit -- the Court has not issued an opinion regarding whether or not their First Amendment rights have been violated. Interestingly, although the order stipulated that the nuns would no longer have "to use the [original] form prescribed by the Government," in order to register their objection, they still must "inform the Secretary of Health and Human Services in writing that they ... have religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services."
But this preservation of the status quo hasn't stopped right-wing media from framing the case as a big win for Little Sisters. In a January 27 segment on Fox's Special Report, host Bret Baier "chalk[ed] one up for David against Goliath." National Review Online at least acknowledged the meaning of the Court's order, but still crowed about the nuns' "big procedural victory." In a recent editorial, The Wall Street Journal went further, not only calling the case a "victory" for Little Sisters, but also a "rebuke to the Obama Administration's bullying conception of religious liberty":
[T]he permanent stay pending appeal, issued late Friday by the full Supreme Court with no recorded dissent, was rarer still -- and a rebuke to the Obama Administration's bullying conception of religious liberty.
The Little Sisters sued because they believe the form they must sign to supposedly exempt themselves from the mandate instructs others to provide contraceptives and abortifacients in their name, and thus violates their faith and the First Amendment. Nearly all of the lower courts that are adjudicating the 91 lawsuits challenging the rule gave religious organizations a reprieve, but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals did not for the Little Sisters.
The Justice Department also argued that this order of Catholic nuns who run a Colorado nursing home and hospice should be forced to comply. You might call it a war on religiously devout women.
For the WSJ, a temporary injunction is apparently a grand legal triumph.
Even though Little Sisters is already eligible for an exemption from the mandate -- which follows the Institute of Medicine's recommendations that contraceptive services be covered by employer-provided health insurance -- the nuns who run the charity brought a lawsuit arguing that signing the form confirming their opposition is a violation of their religious freedom. Earlier this year, the nuns asked the Supreme Court to issue a temporary injunction to prevent the government from levying fines against Little Sisters for their refusal to provide comprehensive insurance to their employees under the law, while their lawsuit worked its way through the court system.
This isn't a case about Big Government vs. Poor Nuns, despite what right-wing media continue to insist. It's about whether or not signing a government form confirming their personal opposition to contraceptives for women can really be considered an unconstitutional burden on the nuns' religious freedom. Given that the nuns now must provide the exact same information to the Court they found so objectionable in the first place, but now consider the fact that they must sign a new government form as opposed to the old one a "victory," perhaps the exemption process isn't quite so burdensome after all.
This will be a decision "on the merits" for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to decide, not right-wing media.