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Media Want To Make Sure You Never Hear About ‘The Little Sisters Of The Poor’


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 no part in it, due to their long-standing, sincerely held religious beliefs.

Yesterday the court ruled against the fines and vacated lower court rulings against the sisters. Since the Obama administration had already admitted to the court that it could find another way to accomplish its goals, the court simply asked lower courts to give them time to do just that.

It’s a big religious liberty win, even if the court didn’t weigh in on the question of whether the federal government could force the Little Sisters of the Poor to violate their consciences if there were no other way to accomplish the regulatory goals of the unpopular Obamacare legislation.

Mona Charen noticed something curious about media coverage of the Little Sisters. Over at National Review she wrote:

What’s in a name? The top story in the print version of today’s Washington Post carries this headline: “Justices Return Contraceptive Case to Lower Courts.” In the six and a half paragraphs explaining the decision on the front page, the plaintiff’s name goes unmentioned. When you flip to the jump, you’ve got to read down another five paragraphs to learn this is the case brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor. We shouldn’t fetishize language, but the name of this order of nuns (however it was arrived at — I have no idea how long it has been around or how it chose its name) is perfectly pitched to make liberals/progressives squirm. Just as the Left used every possible locution to avoid using the term “partial-birth abortion” — the editors of the Post and others go to some considerable trouble to bury the name “Little Sisters of the Poor.”

Isn’t that interesting? That our media that seek out and histrionically elevate every sympathetic plaintiff when it comes to cases advancing sexualityism suddenly have trouble even naming the Little Sisters of the Poor?

A case of “Little Sisters of the Poor” vs. “Powerful Men in Government” is a gift from the editorial gods. But our media are too busy scare-quoting “religious liberty” and pushing an authoritarian agenda. Actually identifying the Little Sisters, much less neutrally profiling them, much less giving their story the weight it deserves, that just won’t do. We have stories to cover poorly and narrative agendas to push.

It’s not just the Washington Post that is hiding the name and story of the Little Sisters of the Poor. A reader noticed that David G. Savage of the Tribune News Service also hid their name. His piece, very sympathetic to the bureaucracy that seeks to limit religious freedom, waited until deep in the story to even mention the Little Sisters. Seriously, the piece reads like a press release from HHS if HHS had its press releases written by the savvy public relations teams funded by Planned Parenthood. He finally mentions the sisters in the 13th paragraph because he’s forced to put in a quote from their attorney and their attorney had the decency to name them. Here’s how it ran in the Los Angeles Times.

A review of headlines shows that so-called mainstream publications were far less likely to mention the sisters than publications that are not hostile to religious liberty.

But a very special prize goes out to Adam Liptak of the New York Times. We can call it the Linda Greenhouse Award for Supreme Court Advocacy Presented As Reporting.

Liptak’s 22-paragraph, 1283-word story manages to mention the Little Sisters of the Poor not once. Not in the headline. Not in the lede. Not in any paragraph or sentence. Not in the captions, even though the captions had to work really hard to avoid mentioning them.

If any Republican president went to war against a group called Little Sisters of the Poor, that editorial gift would be unwrapped on every front page of every newspaper in the land. It would lead the nightly broadcast of every television news show. It would be joked about on Saturday Night Live. Comedians and virtue signalers across the land would “destroy” that Republican president every chance they got.

Our media, the hacks who are “dumb, uneducated and eager to deceive” on the existentially important issue of religious liberty, don’t do that in this case. Their silence and covering-up on behalf of the regime is telling.