Catholic TV Station Trying to Avoid Millions of Dollars in Fines in 'Obamacare' Birth Control Mandate Lawsuit

Appeals Court Hears Oral Arguments

Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN)
Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), a Catholic television network founded in 1981 and based in Irondale, Alabama. |

An Alabama-based Catholic television station brought its lawsuit before an appeals court in the hopes of getting an exemption from the Barack Obama Administration's birth control mandate for employers.

Oral arguments were heard Wednesday by the Eleventh Circuit Court regarding Eternal Word Television Network of Irondale's lawsuit against the Health and Human Services Department.

EWTN is being represented by the Washington, D.C.-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a law firm that has overseen dozens of suits against HHS over its contraception mandate.

Lori Windham, senior counsel with the Becket Fund and attorney for EWTN, said in a statement that EWTN should be exempted from the financial penalties of the HHS mandate.

"The government is threatening a religious ministry with millions of dollars in fines for following its faith," stated Windham.

"… the government says EWTN is not religious enough to have the freedom to practice what it preaches. That's wrong."

In February 2012, EWTN filed suit against HHS over the proposed mandate, which would compel the Catholic station to provide contraception coverage for its employees.

Founded by a cloistered nun, EWTN objected on religious grounds to being forced to provide both birth control and abortion-inducing drugs.

Initially the suit was dismissed due to a lack of finalized HHS mandate rules. Once finalized, EWTN refiled a lawsuit believing that the compromises still did not exempt them. HHS now requires EWTN to submit a form that would allow its employees to receive birth control coverage, an act that EWTN believes is contrary to its Catholic faith.

Last June, U.S. District Judge Callie Granade ruled against EWTN, arguing that there was no substantial burden placed on the Catholic broadcasting company.

"Legally (if not morally) speaking, there is a world of difference between a law that compels EWTN to provide contraceptive coverage directly and one in which the government places that burden on someone else after EWTN opts out," wrote Granade.

"Because EWTN's only religious objection to the mandate hinges upon the effect it will have on other parties after EWTN signs Form 700, rather than anything inherent to the act of signing and delivering Form 700 itself, the court finds that the mandate does not impose a substantial burden on EWTN's religious practice …"

EWTN appealed the decision and was granted a temporary injunction from the mandate by the Eleventh Circuit following the United States Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

In the Hobby Lobby case, the highest court in the land ruled five to four that "closedly-held businesses" like the Oklahoma-based craft store chain could be exempted from the HHS mandate due to religious objections.

Last August, three attorneys general filed an amicus brief on behalf of EWTN, arguing that being compelled to abide by the HHS mandate was a violation of their religious freedom.

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