In a splintered decision Thursday, a federal court ruled that the world’s largest religious media network, Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), must comply with the government’s infamous HHS Mandate, which is designed to provide contraceptives and abortifacients.
Recognizing the severity of the situation, the court immediately put its ruling on hold until the Supreme Court address this important issue on March 23 in the Little Sisters of the Poor case.
“We are disappointed in the Court’s refusal to protect our religious freedom,” said EWTN Chairman and CEO Michael P. Warsaw. “We simply want to continue to practice the same faith we preach to the world every day. We are prayerful and hopeful that, if necessary, the Supreme Court will correct this critical error.”
In the majority opinion, the Court stated “We accept the plaintiffs’ sincere belief . . . that the accommodation puts them to a choice between honoring their religious beliefs and facing significant penalties. We nonetheless conclude that the accommodation imposes no substantial burden.”
In a blistering dissent, Judge Tjoflat responded: “the majority runs roughshod over the sincerely held religious objections of Eternal Word Television Network,” and concluded that “At bottom, the majority’s reasoning takes aim at the heart of RFRA itself.”
“This is wrong. Rather than provide these drugs and devices through its own exchanges, our government wants to punish EWTN for practicing its faith.” said Lori Windham, Senior Counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead attorney on the case. “This 2-1 decision is not the end. The government’s unconstitutional mandate has lost repeatedly at the Supreme Court, and we believe it will lose again.”
Over three decades ago, Mother Angelica, a cloistered nun, started the small television network in a garage on monastery grounds. That network’s sole purpose was and remains sharing Catholic faith and traditions with the world. Today, EWTN is now the largest religious media organization in the world, reaching into over 250 million homes in 144 different countries.
In October 0f 2013, EWTN and the Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange joined with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty to challenge the unconstitutional HHS Mandate. The 11th Circuit granted EWTN emergency relief in June of 2014 to protect the nun’s network from having to either violate its faith or pay millions of HHS-mandated IRS fines. Now, a different panel of judges rendered a split decision, voting 2-1 against EWTN.
The Becket Fund continues to lead the charge against the unconstitutional HHS mandate, winning a landmark victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. It currently represents the Little Sisters of the Poor, Reaching Souls International, and Houston Baptist and East Texas Baptist University, along with many other religious ministries.