The Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) was sweating out the deadline. If it didn’t get some form of judicial relief, it would have had to pay fines of $35,000 per day for its refusal to comply with the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act.
“No organization can withstand those kinds of penalties in the long term,” Michael Warsaw, chairman and chief of executive of the Catholic broadcasting network, told the Erik Wemple Blog this morning.
To the rescue came the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Just hours after the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, the appeals court granted an injunction preventing the Department of Health and Human Services from enforcing the mandate against EWTN. EWTN had also filed for relief from the Supreme Court.
The injunction will enable EWTN to continue an ongoing case against the government without incurring massive fines as the litigation winds through the courts. The network is now appealing the adverse June ruling of a federal district judge
Billing itself as the world’s largest religious media network, EWTN is a not-for-profit that transmits its news and programming to 230 million-plus homes in more than 140 countries and territories. It runs not on cable carriage fees and advertising but rather on donations. Last year, it boosted its Washington presence.
On the question of contraceptives, EWTN “refuses to provide, subsidize, or support health insurance that in any way encourages the use of artificial contraception, sterilization, or abortion, all of which it considers a ‘grave sin,’ ” according to a court document in EWTN’s case. EWTN doesn’t qualify for the Obamacare exemption for religious organizations, though it is indeed eligible for an “accommodation” available to nonprofits that object to the mandate on religious grounds. That “accommodation” requires the nonprofit to submit a Department of Labor “Form 700,” which essentially directs the insurance issuer or third-party administrator to handle contraception coverage.
SCOTUSblog explains Form 700: “The government’s idea, of course, was to put a clear gap between the religious group and ultimate access to birth control and related health benefits. And the government drafted that form precisely to insulate the religious employer from the services, to ‘accommodate’ its faith principles.”
EWTN doesn’t appreciate such insulation. “From our perspective, the accommodation doesn’t change the equation. EWTN is still in the position of having to trigger and direct others to provide what we find morally objectionable,” says Warsaw. The Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious organization aren’t fans of Form 700 either.
At the center of all this wrangling are EWTN’s approximately 400 employees in the United States, a “good percentage” of whom aren’t Catholic, says Warsaw. Though the channel was founded by a nun with the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration order in 1981, the outfit is run entirely by lay people. Ever since EWTN launched its legal fight against the contraception mandate in February 2012 (the current litigation dates to October 2013, however), the network’s management has received no internal pushback over the matter. “We’ve had no one who has come forward and expressed any objections at any level of the organization,” says Warsaw. “It’s a thoroughly Catholic organization — people know what they’re getting into.”
EWTN covered its own case in its Monday evening newscast.