Jun 25, 2014

EWTN appeals judge's ruling denying network protection from HHS mandate




NATIONAL


(CNS file photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

By Sarah Hinds
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Eternal Word Television Network has appealed a court ruling against the network in its challenge to the federal mandate requiring most employers, including religious employers, to provide coverage of contraceptives, sterilizations and some abortion-inducing drugs in employee health care plans.

The ruling was handed down June 17 by U.S. District Court Judge Callie Granada in Mobile, Alabama, denying the network the protection it sought from enforcement of the Department of Health and Human Services mandate.

EWTN, based in Irondale, Alabama, objects to being required by the government to provide coverage it opposes on moral grounds.

"We are extremely disappointed with the decision reached by the court in this case," Michael P. Warsaw, chairman of the board and CEO of EWTN Global Catholic Network, said in a statement sent June 24 to Catholic News Service. "The fact that the court has dismissed the serious issues of conscience and religious freedom that EWTN has raised is very troubling."

"As an organization that was founded by Mother Angelica to uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church, we do not believe that contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and voluntary sterilization should be defined as health care. We simply cannot facilitate these immoral practices. We have no other option but to continue our legal challenge of the mandate," said Warsaw, who is a Springfield, Mass., native and graduate of Cathedral High School.

On June 18, the network immediately filed an appeal of Granada's decision with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

The state of Alabama joined the network as a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit when it was filed in October 2013. It was the second lawsuit filed by EWTN; the first one was filed in 2012 and dismissed in March of that year.

"The freedom of religion, and to believe as one sees fit, is our 'first freedom' under the U.S. Constitution," said Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange in a statement issued upon the 2013 filing.

"The people of Alabama have recognized the importance of this freedom and have enshrined it in their constitution as well. Alabama law does not allow anyone to be forced to offer a product that is against his or her religious beliefs or conscience," he said.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed the lawsuit for the plaintiffs. Lori Windham, senior counsel, is defending the network and noted in an interview with CNS that 80 percent of cases similar to the network's case result in rulings that protect the plaintiffs from the mandate.

"We don't think EWTN is different from those who have received injunctions," Windham said. "And that's why we immediately appealed to the 11th Circuit. The fight continues."

The Becket Fund reports that more than 100 cases against the Health and Human Services mandate have been filed since the regulation was announced in August 2011.