By Dave Andrusko
Tip of the hat to the Catholic News Agency for reporting on an important recent legal settlement I had missed.
According to CNA’s Ed Condon, following an October 5 settlement between the Eternal Word Television Network and the Department of Justice, last Thursday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th circuit issued an order vacated a 2014 District Court decision against EWTN.
As you may recall, way back in 2012 EWTN filed a lawsuit challenging the infamous Obama mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services under a provision of ObamaCare. That mandate required employers — even those with deeply held religious objections — to provide health coverage for drugs and procedures to which they have moral or religious objections.
In EWTN’s case, they objected to being required to provide contraception, sterilization, or abortifacients through its employee health care plan. But the principle extends to single issue pro-life organizations. What if a pro-abortion administration requires those employers to provide coverage for abortion?
“This moment has been a long time coming,” said EWTN Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael P. Warsaw.
“Almost seven years and two presidential administrations later, the government and the courts have now realized what EWTN has been saying all along, that the HHS mandate was an unconstitutional attempt to coerce us into violating our strongly held beliefs. This is the right outcome for EWTN and for all those who value religious liberty in America.”
Condon does a masterful job summarizing court cases that extend back almost seven years. He begins when the U.S. District Court in Birmingham, Alabama, dismissed EWTN’s initial lawsuit in March 2013.
When the administration’s revisions [to the HHS regulations] failed to address EWTN’s moral objections, a second suit was filed by the network in October 2013. In June 2014, the U.S. District Court of Mobile, Alabama ruled against the network, though an injunction was granted while the decision was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
In February 2016, a panel of judges voted 2-1 against EWTN, but suspended that decision pending the outcome of the case Zubik v. Burwell, which also concerned the HHS mandate and was then pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Zubik, the Court of Appeals vacated its own negative order against EWTN on May 31, 2016. The court’s order asked for further briefing on the matter while the parties worked toward a settlement.
Attorneys for EWTN and the Department of Justice negotiated terms of a settlement under which the government agreed not to enforce the contraceptive mandate against the network, and that EWTN would ask the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the District Court’s decision. The 11th Circuit granted that request on Nov. 29
“I am confident this agreement will protect EWTN from such regulations, both now and in the future,” Warsaw told Condon.
“EWTN lives by its Catholic faith all day every day, expressing its beliefs worldwide in TV, radio, and print,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket, which represented EWTN. (Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions.) “We are glad that the government and the courts agree that it can continue doing that without being forced to violate its faith.”