WASHINGTON, D.C.—In a peaceful but vocal show of support for religious freedom, a large group of people stood outside the Supreme Court on March 23, praying and singing.
The rally was a mark of solidarity as the Supreme Court heard the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who argued that they should be exempt from the requirement to cover the cost of contraception through insurance, as stated under the Affordable Care Act, because it violates religious liberty.
The group gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court from 8-11:30 a.m. to support the Little Sisters. Nearly 200 people, including many religious women of different orders, religious men, seminarians, and laity participated in the rally.
A number of speakers, including Alveda King, who is the niece of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. and a pastoral associate with Priests for Life, spoke at the event. Participants also prayed and sang, with several spontaneous renditions of “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” “God Bless America” and “God Bless the USA.” The overall atmosphere of the rally was peaceful but insistent, with chants of “Let them serve!” punctuating the message.
The Denver-based Little Sisters, who operate nursing homes for the elderly poor, joined 36 other groups to contest the contraceptive mandate. The Department of Health and Human Services offered an accommodation that allows objecting employers to notify the HHS of their objections in a letter, which would lead to a third party providing coverage. The Little Sisters and other plaintiffs object to the “work-around”, calling it a burden on their free exercise of religion because they are still involved in coverage that they find objectionable.
While the rally was peaceful, there was also opposition. About 45 people in support of contraception and abortion stood nearby in a gathering of their own. As the rally went on, it was apparent that the two groups saw through very different lenses. At the end, Mother Regina Marie Gorman of the Carmelite Sisters of Los Angeles delivered a closing prayer and asked the faithful to join together to sing the “Salve Regina,” a traditional hymn sung for Mary. Meanwhile, the opposing group played “I’m on the Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga.
A final ruling, if reached, is expected to be announced in June. With the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, however, the case has a distinct possibility of a 4-4 court deadlock, which means the rulings of the circuit courts will be upheld. All but one of those has gone against the plaintiffs.
Until then, rally leaders called on everyone to pray for the Little Sisters and other religious groups, who tirelessly devote themselves to the service of God and His people.
Photos and story by Will Frei | Special to The Catholic Miscellany