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Judge rules against EWTN in HHS mandate case

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IRONDALE, AL – A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that the network founded by Mother Angelica must comply with the HHS mandate, despite its deep-seated religious objections, because the ObamaCare provision does not violate the First Amendment.

"EWTN doesn't have to comply with the mandate. All it has to do is sign a form certifying its opposition to the use of contraceptives and then deliver that form to its third-party administrator."

U.S. District Judge Callie Granade ruled in Mobile that the Obama administration may compel the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) to comply with a provision furnishing female employees with contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs, because the network does not directly supply the services.

“The mandate, as it was enacted, does not violate the Constitution,” she ruled. 

"EWTN doesn't have to comply with the mandate. All it has to do is sign a form certifying its opposition to the use of contraceptives and then deliver that form to its third-party administrator," she continued.

The Obama administration's health care “accommodation” requires employers to certify their religious objections, but their insurance company must then offer female employees birth control pills for “free.” Critics say the move is nothing more than an accounting gimmick, but Judge Granade found the distinction compelling.

"Thanks to the accommodation that allows religious nonprofits to opt out of the mandate, EWTN is free to continue refusing to cover the allegedly abortion-inducing drugs without suffering any discrimination for making that choice,” wrote Judge Granade, who was appointed to the bench in 2002 by President George W. Bush.

According to the network's attorney, Lori Windham of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, “This decision is out of step with the overwhelming majority of decisions in similar cases nationwide.”

More than 300 plaintiffs have filed 100 lawsuits against the controversial HHS mandate. Judges have granted injunctions in 40 of the 46 cases led by non-profits to date, a victory rate of more than 80 percent.

“The fact that the court has dismissed the serious issues of conscience and religious freedom that EWTN has raised is very troubling,” Michael P. Warsaw, CEO of the EWTN Global Catholic Network, said Wednesday morning.

“As an organization that was founded by Mother Angelica to uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church, we do not believe that contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and voluntary sterilization should be defined as health care. We simply cannot facilitate these immoral practices,” Warsaw said.

Like the Little Sisters of the Poor, EWTN contends that it would be complicit in evil if it signed a form allowing its insurance provider to offer abortifacient contraceptives to its employees. Any form of artificial contraception clearly violates Catholic teaching, including the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae.

“This unjust action is in direct contravention of the fundamental human right to religious freedom and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution,” Deacon Keith Fournier wrote at Catholic Online today.

EWTN promised to make an immediate appeal to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

Its lawyers also asked for an injunction against the decision pending that ruling, saying that the Catholic network would be forced to comply with the mandate in two weeks if it were not granted. Newly confirmed HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell has until tomorrow to file an objection.

The Catholic network's legal battle began when EWTN filed suit on February 9, 2012, shortly after the president unveiled his accommodation. “The mission of EWTN is not negotiable,” Warsaw said at the time. “Betraying God’s love for every human person—even ones who are small and vulnerable—just isn’t something we’ll ever be able to adapt to.”

U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn, a Bush Sr. appointee, dismissed the case on March 25, 2013 – ironically, the date of the Feast of the Annunciation, a major Christian holiday celebrating the conception of Jesus Christ.

The network filed this lawsuit last October.

The ruling comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is pondering its verdict on Hobby Lobby's case against the HHS mandate, filed on First Amendment grounds. Justices did not issue a ruling this morning. Analysts say that decision will come on Monday at the earliest. 

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