They’ve been forced out of China and Myanmar because of religious intolerance. The United States may be next. Sister Constance Carolyn Veit, the religious community’s communications director, told the Daily Caller that the Little Sisters were considering all options. The HHS mandate requires employers of more than 50 people to provide contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs without copay in health care plans. The Little Sisters cannot do this; they are faithful Catholics and this is against consistent Catholic teaching for 2,000 years. They cannot afford the fines for disobeying the government’s dictate: $100 per day per employee. If they choose to not provide health insurance, they would be fined $2000 per employee. Sister Constance said:
It could be a serious threat to our mission in the U.S., because we would never be able to afford to pay the fines involved. We have difficulty making ends meet just on a regular basis; we have no extra funding that would cover these fines.
But wait. The President himself said that religious organizations are exempt from the mandate. The Vice President said the same thing in a campaign debate. What about this religious exemption? The Little Sisters of the Poor do not qualify as a “religious organization” in the eyes of our government. Why? As Sister Constance notes,
We are not exempt from the [Obamacare] mandate because we neither serve nor employ a predominantly Catholic population. We hire employees and serve/house the elderly regardless of race and religion, so that makes us ineligible for the exemption being granted churches.
How many employees? There are about 300 Sisters operating 30 homes in the United States.
We employ about 100 employees per home; many of them receive their health insurance through us. So the financial burden with fines is not primarily for our own insurance coverage, but for theirs, a much bigger dollar amount.
The Little Sisters are operating under a “safe harbor” granted by the government, along with many other non-profit religious organizations. Their safe harbor expires in August, 2013. Without any further exemptions, they will be forced to choose between defying the government or leaving the country.
The Little Sisters of the Poor arrived in the United States in 1868. Since then, they have cared for the elderly poor with dignity and compassion. Will 2013 be their last year here? Will we join the ranks of those countries, such as China and Myanmar, so intolerant of religion that they will not allow the Little Sisters to operate in their land, freely practicing their faith?