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Monday Was a “Very Good Day” for Alabama Based EWTN

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Only a few hours after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in a 5 to 4 ruling, that forcing Hobby Lobby to provide abortions inducing drugs as part of their employee’s healthcare coverage was unconstitutional, because it violated the freedom of religion provision provided under the First Amendment, EWTN was granted injunctive relief by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

The injunction prevents the government from enforcing their controversial Department of Health and Human Services contraceptive services mandate against the Network.  The appeals court released its twenty-nine pages only hours after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the landmark Hobby Lobby case. The injunction allows EWTN to continue its court challenge of the mandate without incurring the fines of $35,000 per day that would have begun on July 1.

EWTN Chairman and Chief Executive Michael P. Warsaw said, “This has been a very good day for religious liberty in America.  The Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case was a great affirmation of the constitutional right to freedom of religious expression. While the Hobby Lobby decision did not directly resolve EWTN’s case, this afternoon’s injunction from the appellate court allows us to press forward without facing the government’s crushing fines.”

Chairman Warsaw said, “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.  The Hobby Lobby decision recognizes that business owners don’t give up their religious freedom when they start a business.  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.”

EWTN, the Alabama based Global Catholic Network, is a Catholic TV cable network that is available in over 230 million television households in more than 140 countries and territories.  EWTN also provides direct broadcast satellite television and radio services on: AM & FM radio networks, short-wave radio, and the internet at  EWTN is also the owner of the National Catholic Register, that is part of its electronic and print news services, and publishing arm.  EWTN is the largest religious media network in the world.

Despite the non-profit religious evangelization nature of EWTN’s work the U.S. Government has steadfastly maintained that EWTN and similar religious affiliated employers are not exempt from the HHS mandate that all employers provide 20 different forms of contraceptives including abortion inducing drugs. Hobby Lobby only objected to four of the twenty drugs and procedures on that list.

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The Obama Administration 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 objected to providing or facilitating these products and practices, which violate the teaching of the Catholic Church.  Hundreds of other employers have filed lawsuits across the country charging that the mandate violates federal and constitutional protections of religious freedom.

EWTN initially filed a lawsuit against the mandate in early 2012.  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 which prompted their appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said in a written statement after the ruling that the ruling protects family businesses from government mandates that violate their religious beliefs and that the high court’s ruling is a victory for the free exercise of religion.  AG Strange said, “As Attorney General of Alabama, I was proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Hobby Lobby in opposing the contraception coverage mandate which violates the most deeply held religious beliefs of business owners.”

AG Strange continued, “Alabama has a history of safeguarding our freedom of religion. In 1998, we were the first state to amend our constitution through popular referendum to forbid the state from burdening the free exercise of religion unless there was no other way to accomplish a compelling state interest.  If the federal government believes free contraception is vital, then surely it can find another way to implement it than by forcing family businesses and religious broadcasters and others to violate their religious beliefs.”

AG Strange said in his statement that In October 2013, the state of Alabama joined a separate lawsuit on behalf of Irondale, Alabama-based Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over the Obamacare contraceptive coverage mandate.   Attorney General Strange announced the State of Alabama would continue to stand by the religious broadcaster through the appeals process.

EWTN is represented in its case by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which also represented Hobby Lobby.

Not everyone agrees with the ruling or believes that it applies to nonprofit organizations like EWTN.
The Executive Director of the ACLU of Alabama, Susan Watson said, “Although religious freedom is a fundamental right, it does not include the right to impose your beliefs on others. Today’s Supreme Court ruling is totally unprecedented and the majority got it wrong.”

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Director Watson continued, “To that end, we do not believe that the non-profit organizations that are making similar arguments will prevail…Two federal courts of appeals have already ruled that the accommodation of filling out a form opting out and having the insurance company provide the contraception is not a substantial burden on religious beliefs.”

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta will now decide whether non-profit religious groups like EWTN have the same religious liberties that the owners of for profit closely held companies like Hobby Lobby enjoy under the U.S. Constitution or not.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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