The EWTN Global Catholic Network has secured temporary emergency relief against the federal contraception mandate one day before it would have gone into effect.
“We are thankful that the Eleventh Circuit protected our right to religious freedom while we pursue our case in court,” said Michael Warsaw, chairman and CEO of EWTN. “We want to continue to practice the same Catholic faith that we preach to the world every day.”
“As we have said repeatedly, contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and voluntary sterilization are not health care and the government should not force EWTN to provide them as part of our employer-sponsored health plan.”
Without the injunction to protect against the mandate, EWTN would have be forced to comply with its demands starting July 1, or face potential fines of more than $35,000 per day in penalties for refusing to do so.
Issued under the Affordable Care Act, the federal mandate requires most employers to either provide or facilitate employee insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early abortions.
As an organization founded to uphold the Catholic faith, EWTN objects to providing or facilitating these products and practices, which violate Church teaching.
The network is among more than 300 plaintiffs that have filed lawsuits across the country charging that the mandate violates federal and constitutional protections of religious freedom.
Although an “accommodation” has been offered by the federal government to some religious non-profit groups that object to the mandate, many religious employers say that it still requires them to violate their beliefs by facilitating the coverage through an outside insurer.
EWTN initially filed a lawsuit against the mandate in early 2012; however, that suit was dismissed on technical grounds in March 2013. The current lawsuit was filed in October 2013.
On June 17, U.S. District Court Judge Callie V.S. Granade of Mobile, Ala., ruled against EWTN, prompting an appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
When the appeals court did not respond to its petition, EWTN turned to the Supreme Court for emergency relief as the July 1 deadline approached, also asking the nation’s high court to take up consideration of the full case on its merits.
However, the emergency injunction from the appeals court will now protect the network while its case continues to move forward in court.
The injunction was granted just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby and other closely-held corporations cannot be required to abide by the mandate if their owners have religious objections to it.
While noting that “the Hobby Lobby decision did not directly resolve EWTN’s case” as a non-profit, Warsaw said that the Supreme Court’s decision was “a great affirmation of the constitutional right to freedom of religious expression.”
“This has been a very good day for religious liberty in America,” he stated.
“The Hobby Lobby decision recognizes that business owners don’t give up their religious freedom when they start a business,” Warsaw said. “The fact that the Supreme Court believes that the government has an obligation to use the least restrictive means of accomplishing its goals is very helpful to the EWTN case. EWTN has raised similar arguments with regard to the government’s ‘accommodation’ scheme for faith-based organizations.”
“We are both relieved and encouraged by the action taken by the courts today and look forward to making our case before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in the coming months.”
“On the same day as the Hobby Lobby decision, the Eleventh Circuit protected religious ministries challenging the same government mandate,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the non-profit, public-interest law firm that is defending EWTN in court.
“It’s time for the government to stop fighting ministries like EWTN and the Little Sisters of the Poor, and start respecting religious freedom.”
“EWTN joins the 80 percent of HHS legal challenges that have resulted in favorable rulings supporting religious freedom,” the Becket Fund noted, calling the injunction “a resounding victory for religious freedom.”
Established 33 years ago, EWTN is the largest religious media network in the world, reaching over 230 million television households in more than 140 countries and territories.
The network includes television, radio and a publishing arm, along with a website and both electronic and print news services.