EWTN sues U.S. government over contraception mandate
“We had no other option but to take this to the courts,” EWTN President and CEO Michael Warsaw said in an announcement about the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday. “There is no question that this mandate violates our First Amendment rights.”
“Under the HHS mandate, EWTN is being forced by the government to make a choice,” Warsaw said. “Either we provide employees coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs and violate our conscience or offer our employees and their families no health insurance coverage at all. Neither of those choices is acceptable.”
Senior attorneys at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed the suit on behalf of the media network, against the Department of Health and Human Services, department secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and other government agencies involved with the federal contraception mandate. The Becket Fund also represents Belmont Abbey College in a similar lawsuit.
Finalized Jan. 20, 2012, as part of federal health care reform, the mandate forces all employers – except those that primarily hire and serve members of one religious faith and exist for the sake of promoting religious values – to buy insurance coverage that will offer sterilization and contraception without a co-pay.
Because EWTN serves not only Catholics but the public at large, the network would not qualify for the religious exemption offered by HHS.
At least one of the mandate's required drugs, the emergency contraceptive “ella,” has the potential to cause an early-stage abortion.
The U.S. Catholic bishops have denounced the rule that “forces religious employers and schools to sponsor and subsidize coverage that violates their beliefs, and forces religious employees and students to purchase coverage that violates their beliefs.”
In his announcement of the lawsuit, Warsaw said the federal contraception mandate was “particularly hard on Catholics, because Catholic organizations, such as hospitals, schools, social service agencies, media outlets and others, serve people regardless of their religious beliefs.”
But he made it clear that the federal rule should concern people of all beliefs.
“We are taking this action to defend not only ourselves but also to protect other institutions – Catholic and non-Catholic, religious and secular – from having this mandate imposed upon them.”
Along with the public opposition from over 160 U.S. Catholic bishops, the rule has also drawn opposition from the Eastern Orthodox churches as well as Protestant and Orthodox Jewish leaders.
The EWTN lawsuit is unique in that it is being filed by a lay Catholic organization, not a church-run school or ministry, said a representative of the Becket Fund Feb. 9.
"It's people in the pews, not in the pulputs, who are asking for their First Amendment rights," he said. "We all have First Amendment rights – the idea of HHS that only churches have First Amendment rights is a bizarre one."Meanwhile, HHS has given non-exempt religious institutions an extra year to comply with the “preventive services” mandate. During this time, however, these religious employers must refer their staff to providers of the same drugs and devices.
Warsaw pointed out that this alternative, proposed as a temporary accommodation, also trampled EWTN's conscience rights.
“The government is forcing EWTN, first, to inform its employees about how to get contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs, a concept known as forced speech. To make the matter worse, the government then will force EWTN to use its donors’ funds to pay for these same morally objectionable procedures or to pay for the huge fines it will levy against us if we fail to provide health care insurance.”
If the administration's rule remains in place, the media network could eventually face fines of more than $600,000 for refusing to underwrite policies contradicting its beliefs.
“This is a moment when EWTN, as a Catholic organization, has to step up and say that enough is enough,” the network's president and CEO said.
The HHS contraception mandate is also facing legal challenges from Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic institution, and from the interdenominational Colorado Christian University. Read more.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing all three ministries in their lawsuits. Lawyers from the fund recently won a 9-0 victory against the federal government in a U.S. Supreme Court case regarding the self-governance of a Lutheran church and school.
EWTN is providing further information about the mandate and its lawsuit at www.ewtn.com/hhsmandate.
— CNA/EWTN News
EWTN responds to Obama's compromise
The following statement was released by Michael P. Warsaw, President & Chief Executive Officer of EWTN:
"I am certainly pleased to see that EWTN's decision to file suit against the recent contraception mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services may have played some role in forcing the administration to revisit the application of these rules on religious institutions. However, we remain quite skeptical that the changes announced by President Obama will in fact address the concerns raised by EWTN.
According to a White House statement, some religious institutions may no longer be required to directly provide insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs; however, this accommodation may not actually apply to EWTN or actually give any relief to the Network and other similar organizations. Like EWTN many religious institutions self-insure their healthcare plans, meaning that we will still be forced to pay for these services in violation of our religious beliefs. Today's announcement certainly does not give any hope to countless individual business owners and people of faith who share the concern about being required to provide for these services which they personally find immoral.
EWTN is particularly concerned that the proposed rules for non-exempted religious organizations will still not be finalized until later in the coming year. This leaves EWTN and other such organizations very uncertain about what the future may hold with regard to this mandate. We will continue to consult with our legal counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty to determine the implications of this revised approach; however, our legal action against the administration will continue. "
Family, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has an online petition which asks the Obama Administration to stop the contraception mandate. To sign the petition, please go to http://www.becketfund.org/hhs/
Becket Fund files lawsuit for nun's TV network
Thirty years ago, a cloistered nun named Mother Angelica started a small television network in her monastery garage to spread the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Today, the network she started is suing the federal government for the right to remain faithful to those teachings.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed suit this morning on behalf of Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) against Obama Administration officials who are trying to force the network to pay for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion drugs.
"The federal government cannot force people to violate their religion like this," said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund and a constitutional law professor at the Catholic University of America. "Mother Angelica founded EWTN to spread the teachings of the Catholic Church—not to betray them."
Over the last three decades EWTN, has become the largest Catholic media organization in the world. Now run by lay Catholics, the network refuses to pay for contraceptive services and for drugs that destroy human life. "If we are willing to compromise our Catholic faith, we are selling the soul of the network," said Michael P. Warsaw, EWTN's President and Chief Executive Officer. "The mission of EWTN is not negotiable."
The network also rejects the government's offer last month of another year to "adapt" their consciences to its mandate. "Maybe they missed the word 'Eternal' in the name," quipped Warsaw. "Betraying God's love for every human person—even ones who are small and vulnerable—just isn't something we'll ever be able to adapt to."
EWTN's case is the third lawsuit brought by the Becket Fund challenging the Obama administration's abortion drug mandate. The Becket Fund also represents Belmont Abbey College (a Benedictine Catholic college in North Carolina) and Colorado Christian University (a nondenominational Christian university in Colorado) in similar lawsuits. To date, the government has sought several extensions in those cases rather than answering the claims.
The mandate has been widely criticized from across the political spectrum and by religious leaders of all faiths. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) recently introduced a bill to amend the health care law to instruct government bureaucrats to respect conscience rights in their mandates.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. The Becket Fund has a 17-year history of defending religious liberty for people of all faiths. Its attorneys are recognized as experts in the field of church-state law, and they recently won a 9-0 victory against the federal government at the U.S. Supreme Court in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC.
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