As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear a religious freedom case against the federal contraception mandate, the EWTN Global Catholic Network has filed a brief with the court.
“Our brief argues that the government’s mandate and its subsequent ‘accommodation’ scheme seek to coerce EWTN and other religious organizations into violating our strongly held beliefs,” EWTN Chairman and CEO Michael Warsaw said Jan. 11. “The Supreme Court needs to find the mandate to be unconstitutional.”
EWTN Global Catholic Network was founded by Mother Angelica, a Franciscan nun. It is the largest religious media network in the world and is among hundreds of organizations to challenge the mandate. However, its legal appeal is still pending with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard oral arguments in February 2015.
The Department of Health and Human Services mandate requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early abortions.
Employers who fail to comply with the mandate face crippling penalties. Many Catholic and non-Catholic organizations have filed lawsuits against the mandate, saying it violates religious freedom and compels them to act against their religious and moral beliefs.
On Nov. 6, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear several remaining legal challenges to the mandate, including plaintiffs like Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh and the Little Sisters of the Poor.
For failing to comply with the mandate, EWTN said it could face fines of $35,000 per day, about $12.7 million per year. Its amicus curiae, “friend of the court” brief charged that the government aims to force EWTN into “complicity with wrongdoing.”
“Giving in would not only violate EWTN’s conscience, but would destroy EWTN’s credibility as a witness to the Catholic faith it proclaims every day to a worldwide audience,” the network’s brief said.
Warsaw said EWTN’s Jan. 11 brief with the Supreme Court “allows EWTN to have its voice heard as the court gives consideration to these important cases challenging the government’s contraceptive mandate scheme.”
The brief noted that the government’s religious exemption to the mandate applies to churches, auxiliaries and their religious orders. This exemption did not help EWTN. Although the network is dedicated to proclaiming Catholic teaching, “it is not an arm of the Catholic Church, and while EWTN was founded by the head of a cloistered order of nuns, it is not a religious order.”
The lawsuit was dismissed on technical grounds in March 2013. The network again filed a lawsuit on Oct. 28, 2013, joined by the State of Alabama and its Attorney General Luther Strange.
In 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, a closely-held private company whose Christian owners objected to parts of the mandate. EWTN then secured an injunction from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The injunction allowed EWTN to continue its court challenge without facing fines.
EWTN broadcasts to over 258 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories. It also broadcasts via satellite radio, internet radio and other media. Its publications include the National Catholic Register. Its news services include Catholic News Agency.