Despite openly admitting they were violating the organization's religious beliefs, a federal court ruled 2-1 on Thursday that the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), a religiously-based outlet founded and run by Catholics, must abide by President Obama’s Affordable Care Act mandate requiring them to provide birth control and certain abortion-inducing drugs to their employees or pay a hefty fine.
In the majority opinion, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals stated:
We accept the plaintiffs’ sincere belief that triggering coverage or being complicit in coverage violates their religious beliefs and 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.
The Court continued:
The plaintiffs here contend that under Hobby Lobby no such objective inquiry is required. In their view, a religious adherent’s mere assertion that she is being compelled to violate her sincerely held religious belief means that the government has put her to such a choice, regardless of what the law objectively requires. We disagree.
Under Obamacare, religiously-grounded organizations like EWTN are given the option to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees, pay a hefty penalty, or sign the coverage to a third party administrator, allowing the employee to receive contraception benefits via an alternate route.
The EWTN, however, argues that this alternative still violates their religious freedom because they must sign a form transferring the coverage to a third party, forcing them to be complicit in a system that provides drugs they say go against their religious beliefs.
The network is represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the same public interest law firm that similarly represented Hobby Lobby in the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case.
“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 in a press release. “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.”
The Court has put the ruling on hold until the case can be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on March 23. The EWTN will be joined by other religious organizations arguing that the Obamacare mandate violates their religious freedom, including Little Sisters of the Poor, Reaching Souls International, and Houston Baptist and East Texas Baptist University.