Last week I was at a religious liberty confab attended by some of the Little Sisters of the Poor. One of my favorite vignettes from the conference was watching a decorated Sikh Army captain, who recently won his religious liberty battle to wear a turban while he serves in non-combat scenarios, chat it up with the cheerful gaggle of Little Sisters, who are in a major religious liberty battle against President Obama over whether the government can force them to violate their religious beliefs or face crippling fines. Both are represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
Holocaust survivor and human rights activist Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Laureate, bestowed the Becket Fund’s Canterbury medal on Armando Valladares, a dissident who spent 22 years imprisoned and tortured by the Cuban regime because he refused to publicly state his support of Fidel Castro. At many points during his imprisonment, he could have signed a piece of paper to be freed, but he refused to do so because, he said, for him it would be a form of spiritual suicide. His beautiful speech — a must-read for anyone concerned about totalitarian bureaucracies — specifically praised the Little Sisters of the Poor for, as he put it, “their seemingly small act of defiance”:
The Little Sisters of the Poor know [that religious conscience is priceless]. They may be called the Little Sisters of the Poor, and yet they are rich in that they live out their conscience, which no government bureaucrat can invade. They know what my body knows after 22 years of cruel torture: that if they sign the form, the government demands they will be violating their conscience and would commit spiritual suicide. If they did this they would forfeit the true and only wealth they have in abandoning the castle of their consciences.
I watched the nearby table, full of Little Sisters, dab their eyes as this great man praised them. The Little Sisters of the Poor is a large Roman Catholic religious order for women, founded 177 years ago to care for the impoverished elderly as they approach their final rest. The Little Sisters make vows of chastity, poverty, obedience and hospitality. They view their physical care of the elderly as a spiritual calling. They serve in 31 countries and they are awesome.
They won a major religious battle yesterday. The Obama administration wanted to fine them $70 million per year for their religious objection to taking part in a government scheme to distribute birth control. Nine times the government rewrote regulations that would force the nuns to take part in the plan or be fined out of existence, each time claiming that the present version of regulations was as far as they could go to accommodate religious belief. Each time the sisters remained steadfast. Their story never changed. They didn’t weigh in on the government’s birth control plan except to say they wanted…