Irondale, AL (EWTN) – EWTN Global Catholic Network filed a petition today asking the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to rehear its case challenging the HHS health insurance mandate. The request comes in light of new admissions made by the U.S. Government in its arguments in the Zubik v. Burwell case, which is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Little Sisters of the Poor and several other faith-based organizations are also parties to that case.
In February, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a 2-1 decision against EWTN more than a year after oral arguments. That decision lifted the court’s earlier ruling temporarily protecting EWTN and would allow the government to force EWTN to violate core Catholic teachings by providing services, such as contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations, as part of their employee health plan even though these services can easily be provided by the government.
EWTN’s May 4 rehearing request maintains that the fractured February opinion was built on a foundation that the government has since undermined. Most significantly, the government argued in the EWTN case, and the panel majority accepted, that EWTN simply had to “opt out” of providing objectionable services and the government would provide the mandated services without further involvement by the Network. But in responding to a virtually unprecedented Supreme Court order in the Zubik case asking for additional briefing after oral argument, the government admitted that its scheme does make the contraceptive services coverage a “part” of EWTN’s health plan and that it never had any other “mechanism” for making the scheme work another way.
“The government finally admitted what we have been saying from the beginning,” commented Michael P. Warsaw, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of EWTN. “Once you get past the bureaucratic smokescreen, this really comes down to one issue: the government wants to hijack our health plan to provide services that we find morally objectionable. EWTN will not let them do that. Our petition for a rehearing asks the Appeals Court to reconsider its flawed decision in light of these outrageous admissions by the government.”
“The government should have remembered their Mark Twain: telling the truth is easier to remember,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents EWTN. “But after years of an at-best distant acquaintance with the truth, the government is getting its stories mixed up. Until recently, the government swore that it didn’t need ministries to do anything but get out of the way. That claim was always ‘rubbish on stilts,’ as one judge put it. And in the crucible of the Supreme Court, the government finally slipped, confessing that its scheme depends on being able to hijack ministries’ health plans.”
EWTN filed its original lawsuit Feb. 9, 2012 against the Department of Health & Human Services, then-HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and other government agencies seeking to stop the imposition of the contraception mandate as well as asking the court for a declaratory judgment that the mandate is unconstitutional. The Attorney General of the State of Alabama filed a motion to join EWTN March 22, 2012 as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. That lawsuit was dismissed pending the final HHS mandate rules.
The final rules, promulgated in July 2013, granted no relief to EWTN. In October 2013, EWTN and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange joined together to challenge the unconstitutional HHS mandate. A federal judge ruled against EWTN in that case as well. Hours after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case in June 2014, the 11th Circuit granted EWTN an emergency injunction, protecting EWTN from the mandate while it filed an appeal. On Feb. 18, 2016, a different panel of judges rendered a split decision, voting 2-1 against EWTN. The panel put its ruling on hold to give the Supreme Court time to weigh in on Zubik.
EWTN Global Catholic Network, in its 35th year, is the largest religious media network in the world. EWTN’s 11 networks broadcast in multiple languages 24 hours a day, seven days a week to over 265 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories. EWTN services include direct broadcast satellite television and radio; AM & FM radio networks transmitted through SIRIUS/XM, iHeart Radio, and over 500 domestic and international radio affiliates; a worldwide shortwave radio service; the largest Catholic website in the U.S.; electronic and print news services, including “The National Catholic Register” newspaper, and two global wire services; as well as a publishing arm.