Solidarity with the sisters

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Every day, nuns around the country take care of the sick, teach children, serve the homeless and pray without ceasing. But March 23, more than 150 of them left their ministries to support their fellow religious women. They gathered as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the Little Sister of the Poor's case against the Health and Human Services contraceptive coverage.

The Little Sisters of the Poor are a religious order that runs nearly 30 homes for the elderly poor in the United States. Along with Priests for Life, Catholic University, Geneva College, and others, the Little Sisters have filed against the court for forcing them to provide a healthcare plan to their employees that offers birth control - a violation of Catholic doctrine. If the Little Sisters refuse to comply with the mandate, they will be charged $70 million dollars in fines per year.

According to the Becket Fund, a religious liberties law firm defending the Little Sisters, large companies such as Pepsi, Visa and Exxon are exempt already from the mandate for other reasons. Churches are exempt as religious institutions, and for-profit companies with religious owners, such as Hobby Lobby, also have an exemption. But the government considers the Little Sisters a non-profit group unaffiliated with the church, therefore making them subject to the mandate.

"What's decided in this case will affect all of us," said Sister Benedicta of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Indiana. In addition to their life of prayer, the Sisters of St. Francis also run hospitals, that will be affected if the case is lost.

"If the Little Sisters of the Poor have this conflict, then our religious communities are in danger as well," said Sister Mary Catherine of the School Sisters of Christ the King. Four members of their community of teaching sisters flew from Nebraska to be at the Supreme Court rally. "We're hopeful, and we love the Little Sisters," she said.

On the cool, sunny morning, nuns in all colors and types of habits were joined by students from the affected colleges, including Southern Nazarene University, as well as by local Catholics.

"I think it's really important to stand up for religious liberty and the right to be able to practice our religion without the government saying what we can and cannot do," said Becky Finger, a FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionary from George Mason University in Fairfax.

During the rally, the cheerful crowd heard from speakers, sang hymns and chanted "Let them Serve." They held signs saying "Help a Sister Out," "Women for Religious Freedom," and "HHS Mandate - I'll Have Nun of It!" The Little Sisters handed out chocolate chip cookies with wrappers that read, "Life is sweeter when you serve."

A crowd supporting the opposition also was there with signs reading "I Heart Access to Birth Control" and "I Shouldn't Pay for My Boss's Religion."

Around 75 girls from Mount DeSales Academy in Catonsville, Md., volunteered to come to the rally out of love for the nuns.

"I volunteer at the Little Sisters of the Poor and they're the sweetest people I've ever met," said senior Katherine Pope. "I can see the way they bring joy to the elderly."

"We don't want to see them not be able to serve," added Mary Swann. "I think the case is much more than Catholics opposing abortion and birth control. I think it's about supporting our religious liberty and being able to live (out) our faith under our government."

Di Mauro can be reached at zdimauro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @zoeydimauro.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016