Divided court rules against nun’s network on HHS mandate

Mother AngelicaEWTN’s case now on hold until Supreme Court decision 

For Immediate Release: February 18, 2016
Media Contact: Melinda Skea, mskea@becketfund.org, 202-349-7224

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Moments ago, in a splintered decision, 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 even though the government can offer these same services through its own exchanges. This mandate forces religious ministries like EWTN to violate their faith or pay massive IRS penalties. 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. Today, 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.

In addition to the Becket Fund, EWTN is also represented by Kyle Duncan of Duncan PLLC.

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket Fund attorney, please contact Melinda Skea at mskea@becketfund.org or 202-349-7224.Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

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The Becket Fundis a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. For over 20 years, it has defended clients of all faiths, includingBuddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians.