- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Religious freedom and pro-choice abortion advocates may have been standing side to side in the shadow of the Supreme Court on Wednesday morning, but they were worlds apart on how Zubik v. Burwell, the case being debated before the justices just a few yards away, should be decided.

Black religious habits checkered the crowd on the right, standing out in stark contrast to the Court’s towering white marble columns. They did not belong to the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns at the center of the challenge to the Department of Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate under Obamacare.

Several of the sisters were wearing their traditional gray head scarves, elevated above the crowd on steps with backs turned toward the Supreme Court building.

The Little Sisters is one of 37 religious nonprofits challenging an “accommodation” issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, which purports to exempt them from providing contraceptives and abortifacients to their employers under Obamacare. But the groups argue the Obama administration’s “workaround” is an accommodation in name only.

Emily Duffy, director of communications at the Catholic Information Center, spoke to a crowd holding brightly colored blue, pink and yellow signs reminiscent of Easter eggs and embroidered with “Let Them Serve” or “HHS Mandate: I’ll Have Nun of It.”

Ms. Duffy said the HHS mandate will force the Little Sisters either to violate their faith or face crippling fines that will prevent them from carrying out their mission to serve the impoverished elderly.

“None of these are acceptable options in the United States of America,” she said, adding that there is no “price tag to practice our faith, but this mandate would impose a huge cost.”

The ranks of the pro-choice side on the plaza were thinner, but in between chants of “When birth control is under attack, what do we do? Stand up and fight!” and spontaneous dance sessions to the music of the Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child, a few activists addressed the crowd with a megaphone.

Diana Castillo, legislative manager for the Secular Coalition for America, said the notion that filling out a form constitutes a “substantial burden” on religious belief is bunk.

“All of us in the secular community believe your employer’s religion should never determine what kind of care you get,” Ms. Castillo said.

Sarah Torre, policy analyst at the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation, said the contraceptive mandate reflects this disconnect between the secular and religious worlds about the proper role of faith in public life.

“We cannot simply discard the convictions that guide our lives,” Ms. Torre said.

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