After Hobby Lobby Decision, Federal Court Grants Catholic Network Relief From Birth Control Mandate

Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), a Catholic television network founded in 1981 and based in Irondale, Alabama.
Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), a Catholic television network founded in 1981 and based in Irondale, Alabama. | (Photo: EWTN)

Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby, an Alabama-based Catholic television network was given relief from the federal government's "preventive services" mandate.

Within hours of the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby Inc. on Monday, Eternal Word Television Network was granted relief from having to pay fines for refusing to comply with the HHS mandate to provide various birth control pills.

In addition to EWTN, five other groups based in Wyoming were given emergency relief. They were the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne, Catholic Charities of Wyoming, St. Joseph's Children's Home, St. Anthony Tri-Parish Catholic School, and Wyoming Catholic College.

EWTN was granted its emergency relief from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals and is represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Lori Windham, senior counsel with the Becket Fund, said in a statement released Monday that the developments showed that the government should cease its efforts to defend the mandate.

"It's time for the government to stop fighting ministries like EWTN and the Little Sisters of the Poor, and start respecting religious freedom," said Windham.

In its decision, the three judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit attributed the granting of the injunction for EWTN to the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case.

"In light of the Supreme Court's decision today … we grant the motion of Eternal Word Television Network for an injunction pending appeal," read the panel's decision, adding that the justices "express no views on the ultimate merits of EWTN's appeal in this case."

In February 2012, EWTN filed a lawsuit against HHS over the mandate, which would force the Catholic broadcasting company to provide contraception coverage for its employees.

As a Catholic company founded by nuns, EWTN objected on moral and religious grounds to being compelled to provide birth control and pills considered abortion-inducing.

The following month, U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn dismissed the lawsuit, arguing that since the HHS rules had not been finalized at the time, a proper judgment was not possible.

In June 2012 HHS finalized the rules on the mandate, which included an "accomodation" for religious nonprofit organizations. Critics of the final rules argued that they still do not provide sufficient exemptions for religious businesses and other for-profits.

In October 2013, EWTN filed a second lawsuit over the mandate and had the backing with the attorney general of the state of Alabama.

According to the Becket Fund, there are 100 lawsuits against the HHS mandate. The majority of the cases, including the Supreme Court case pertaining to Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods Specialties, have ended in favorable results for the plaintiffs.

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