- (Photo: Reuters/Newscom)
A Catholic broadcaster, which is the world's largest religious media network, has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to protect it from violating its deeply held religious convictions by having to include contraception in its healthcare coverage or paying crippling fines starting July 1.
The Alabama-based Eternal Word Television Network, founded by a cloistered nun and dedicated to spreading the teachings of the Catholic Church, filed its motion for emergency relief with the high court Friday.
On June 18, a federal judge dismissed a suit filed by the broadcaster, which plans to appeal but asked for a Supreme Court injunction before the approaching deadline.
Without relief, EWTN faces fines of up to $12 million per year to the IRS.
"The government fought the Little Sisters of the Poor all the way to the Supreme Court, and now it is fighting Eternal Word Television Network all the way to the Supreme Court," said Lori Windham, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the network, in a statement. "It's time for the government to stop its war on nuns and protect religious ministries from this unjust mandate. Our laws give EWTN the right to practice what it preaches."
"We did not want to take the government all the way to the Supreme Court, but we were left with no choice," said EWTN Chairman and CEO Michael P. Warsaw. "We should not be forced to choose between violating our faith and paying severe fines to the IRS."
There are about 100 lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate.
"As we have said repeatedly, these drugs and procedures are not healthcare and EWTN should not be forced to provide them or face over $35,000 per day in penalties to the government for refusing to do so," Catholic News Agency quoted Warsaw as saying.
The Network will also file a motion asking the Supreme Court to take up the full merits of the case.
EWTN filed an initial lawsuit against the contraception mandate in early 2012, but it was dismissed on technical grounds in March 2013. The current lawsuit was filed in October 2013.
The Supreme Court will issue a decision Monday involving the mandate as it applies to for-profit businesses owned by individuals with religious objections. However, the case, which was filed by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, will not necessarily apply to EWTN, Warsaw said. "Therefore, we felt it important to move our own case forward now while we await the verdict in the Hobby Lobby case."
The network was founded 33 years ago by Mother Angelica, a cloistered nun, in her monastery garage with a mission to spread the teachings of her Catholic faith. Today, it is transmitting programming 24 hours a day to televisions in more than 230 million homes in more than 140 countries and territories, according to the organization's website.