Little Sisters and other resisters

Pope Francis visiting Little Sisters of the Poor. Photo from
Pope Francis visiting Little Sisters of the Poor. Photo from

My mom, God rest her, once quipped that the three biggest lies in the world are “the check is in the mail,” “of course I’ll love you in the morning,” and “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” I can add a fourth to the list: “They’re coming for your birth control” – a lie that has gained some currency, as a quick Web search will verify.

Brace yourself for more. A year and a half after the Hobby Lobby cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has announced it is taking up more challenges to the contraceptive mandate of the so-called Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. (The ghost of George Orwell groans with every repetition of that title. I’ll use “Obamacare,” hardly a slur if the President takes as much pride in the law as he says he does.) The Little Sisters of the Poor, among others, will argue that they should not have to be involved in employees’ decisions to use contraception. The Administration holds an opposing view.

Inconvenient truths

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The they’re-coming nonsense ignores a few facts: people who don’t want to pay for someone else’s contraception or abortion-inducing drugs are not “coming to take” them; access does not mean “free”; religious liberty under the First Amendment includes religious practice, not mere freedom to worship – at least until and unless the Supreme Court chooses to eviscerate the First Amendment; Americans with religious objections to contraception (myself, among others) want not to be forced to subsidize or provide it to others.

Recall that in this context, “religious” isn’t limited to Catholic. The Hobby Lobby case was won by evangelical Protestants, and the companion Conestoga Wood Products case involved Mennonites. Recall as well that those cases were decided on extremely narrow grounds, with the Court majority acknowledging that it was not addressing the First Amendment issues raised by the plaintiffs. Instead, the decision rested on a statute, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). It was left to Justice Ginsburg and the other three Justices in the minority to say that the First Amendment didn’t protect the plaintiffs in their claim at issue. One more Justice being swayed to that view could make the Little Sisters’ case what Hobby Lobby was not: a landmark in constitutional law.

At issue

I am indebted to and Helen Alvare, Esq. of Women Speak for Themselves for their research and reports on the cases to be heard by the Court. I am mentioning only a few of the issues. Any errors in the following summary are my own.

The Little Sisters are arguing that their sincerely-held religious beliefs, no less than those of the Hobby Lobby plaintiffs, are protected by RFRA. In order for the federal government to prevail, if the Court limits itself to the actual issue in question, it would have to show that the Obamacare contraceptive mandate and the Administration’s efforts to “accommodate” religiously-affiliated employers do not amount to a burden on the Little Sisters’ free exercise of their religious beliefs. Further, the government would have to show that it has a compelling interest in forcing the Little Sisters to violate those beliefs. It would have to show that there is no other way to get “free” contraceptives to the Little Sisters’ employees.

The federal government is quite comfortable making all those arguments. The President and his HHS secretaries – first Kathleen Sebelius, Obamacare’s virtual doula, and now Sylvia Burwell – will litigate challenges to the mandate regardless of time or cost required.

About that “accommodation” for religiously-affiliated employers: employers who provide health care for workers are supposed to advise insurers, or the agencies administering health insurance, to cover contraception as a “preventive” health care item. To accommodate employers like the Little Sisters, the Administration crafted a regulation that allows those employers to advise the government of its objections to the contraceptive mandate, but then requires the employers to provide the government with all the information it needs to provide contraceptive coverage to employees.

The Administration calls this an opt-out for employers. Nope, assert the plaintiffs. Under the accommodation, the government simply turns around and does the paperwork that makes contraceptive coverage part of the health insurance plan provided by the employer. The employer is thus forced to be a party to providing something in violation of the employer’s sincerely-held religious beliefs. To compound the burden on the employer, there are financial penalties for failure to cooperate with the mandate.

We’ve met you halfway, say the feds. You don’t get to tell us what constitutes a violation of our religious beliefs, say the plaintiffs.

Back to “They’re coming for your birth control”

Nowadays, when I hear anything about a threat to women’s basic preventive health care, I immediately go on high alert. The currency of language regarding health care has become so debased that no one can or should take it at face value. “Threat to basic preventive care” has become code for “someone’s trying to get out of paying for your contraception” – a far cry from denying “preventive” care.

The Little Sisters of the Poor are nuns, for God’s sake (literally). They care for the elderly poor. Their vision statement sounds like something that ought to be encouraged: “to contribute to the Culture of Life by nurturing communities where each person is valued, the solidarity of the human family and the wisdom of age are celebrated, and the compassionate love of Christ is shared with all.


These are the women who are challenging the mandate. Theirs is the ministry that will be crippled if they have to pay fines. These are the people the Administration and other mandate supporters want to force into compliance. The Sisters take a vow of obedience, all right, but in doing so the Sisters in the U.S.A. didn’t surrender their constitutional rights.

Most inconvenient truth of all, in the face of the mandate: women aren’t broken and they don’t need to be fixed. Calling contraception “preventive” health care is the same as saying that women in their childbearing years are defective. Treating contraception as a choice, an option, is far different from treating it as a public health imperative.

It just might take a group of nuns to drive that point home.

He Said It: Rene Girard

Rene Girard (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

“The experience of death is going to get more and more painful, contrary to what many people believe. The forthcoming euthanasia will make it more rather than less painful because it will put the emphasis on personal decision in a way which was blissfully alien to the whole problem of dying in former times. It will make death even more subjectively intolerable, for people will feel responsible for their own deaths and morally obligated to rid their relatives of their unwanted presence. Euthanasia will further intensify all the problems its advocates think it will solve.” — René Girard, 1923-2015

(h/t Artur Rosman)

“Renewal rather than loss” – an adoptive family’s story

First posted during National Adoption Awareness Month 2014: guest blogger Marian Ward tells her family’s story.
photo: courtesy of Marian Ward
photo: courtesy of Marian Ward

I never remember a time when I found out we had been adopted. It was something we simply always knew. My older brother and I were a toddler and an infant respectively at the time of our adoption. My parents were so overjoyed with their new family that I doubt they could have kept our adoption secret, but they went beyond that to actually recite to us a bedtime story that explained how we became that family.

We were adopted together in what I understand was the first dual-state, simultaneous, sibling adoption in the United States at that time. It still amazes me that our adoption ever happened.

My parents had been living in Dallas, Texas. Sometime in 1979, a church in Oregon requested my dad to come and be their pastor. There just happened to be an attorney at their new church who had worked on family cases before, so shortly after moving to Oregon, my parents were able to start the process of adoption. Their praying, waiting and hoping for their children intensified. Because they had been married ten years and had been unable to have a child, they specifically requested siblings in their adoption application process.

Finally, the call came. The case worker told them about my brother, and through some miracle knew he had a sister in the Idaho foster system. The case worker asked my parents if they would like that baby, too. Both my mom and dad say they knew right away that these were “their” children. On their tenth wedding anniversary in 1982, we became an “Instant Family” as the headline read in the local paper. Of course, as is common in adoptive families, my parents were surprised with a biological son three years later.

My parents literally told us the story of our family in our bedtime stories. One of them was a book called The Chosen Baby that had been given to us by another adoptive family. More importantly, we were told The Story of Timmy and Marian. There used to be a typewritten manuscript, but my mom now recites it from memory.

Our adoption was evidently discussed often and in many nuanced ways and was demonstrated in my behavior in early elementary school. I used to explain to other students that I had been adopted by telling them that my parents got to pick me out while theirs were stuck with whatever kid they got. Being an adoptee was so intertwined in my core as even a small person that I felt as though my situation was better than those around me.

I recommend that biological, adoptive, and mixed families purposefully create and mindfully tell their own family stories. It has absolutely affected and strengthened all the layers of our family and respective individual identities through telling and retelling. Families would do well to actually write down some of the stories of older generations so we can preserve a larger body of narrative history. Be deliberate in creating new stories. Families and individuals can find healing through constructing narratives of renewal rather than loss.

Source: Ward, M. (2013). The Story of Timmy and Marian: the Ward Family Adoption Narrative and the Communication Theory of Identity. Course: Intercultural Communication, University of Arkansas at Little Rock.


Today’s civics lesson

Somewhere in Manchester, New Hampshire are a few dozen voters who stayed away from the polls yesterday and could have tipped the mayoral election. Seen on Twitter Tuesday evening:


Apropos of nothing, challenger Joyce Craig was endorsed by EMILY’s List.

Get to the polls when there’s an election. Your vote counts.

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“Illuminate the love of God in some of the darkest places”: a response to human trafficking

Kelly Roy Williams in Nashua, September 2015. Photo by Ellen Kolb.
Kelly Roy Williams in Nashua, September 2015. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

Kelly Roy Williams leads a ministry that some might think is out of place in southern New Hampshire. She reaches out to people, adults and children alike, who are being sexually exploited or trafficked. There’s a way you can support her efforts – read on.

When I recently heard Kelly speak at a Nashua event, she mentioned one of the times “business” picks up: race weekend, with its tens of thousands of visitors to New Hampshire. Naive of me, perhaps, but I was surprised. She continued, “I’m going to refer to this as modern-day slavery, because that’s what human trafficking is. These are human lives, lives that God has determined are valuable and in need of protection.”

Kelly first became aware of the extent and effects of sexual exploitation during a trip to India. She began to work with girls who had managed to escape from the sex industry. Back home, she recognized that sexual exploitation and trafficking were going on in our area, too. Thus was born Illuminating Love, which Kelly describes as a combination of “outreach, mentoring, ministry, worship, missions and more….Illuminat[ing] the love of God in some of the darkest places.”

Read more at the Illuminating Love web site. Even five minutes there will be an eye-opener.

This month, Kelly has launched an appeal that anyone can support. “Adopt a Month” invites individuals, groups and churches to pick a month and then provide that month’s outreach gifts for the women and children assisted by Illuminating Love. Find out more at