U.S. appeals court rejects Catholic media network's religious freedom argument in contraception mandate case

EWTN Chairman Michael Warsaw says the Atlanta appeals court's decision 'orders EWTN to violate its religious beliefs.'(EWTN)

An appeals court in Atlanta has ruled against a Catholic media network over its opposition to the Obamacare contraception and accommodation mandate based on its religious beliefs.

The 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issued the decision against the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), founded by Mother Angelica, saying the "accommodation imposes no substantial burden."

Religious organisations are exempted from providing access to contraceptives to their employees under Obamacare, but they have to notify the U.S. Department of Human and Health Services (HHS) or their third-party administrator about their opposition.

The court ruled, "We accept the plaintiffs' sincere belief . . . that the accommodation puts them to a choice between honouring their religious beliefs and facing significant penalties. We nonetheless conclude that the accommodation imposes no substantial burden," according to LifeSite News.

The penalties could amount to as much as $35,000 per day for EWTN's 350 employees.

The appeals court, however, suspended its decision until the U.S. Supreme Court makes its ruling on the issue this year.

"We are extremely disappointed that the Court has refused to protect our religious freedom... This decision orders EWTN to violate its religious beliefs and comply with the government's HHS mandate or pay massive fines to the IRS," said EWTN Chairman Michael Warsaw.

He said Obamacare coverage "also threatens the financial viability of any organisation that disagrees with the administration's politics. The mandate makes it impossible for us to live up to (our) core mission... That ultimatum is unfair, unconstitutional and repugnant."

In its decision, the appeals court ruled that "we hold that the accommodation for the contraceptive mandate does not violate RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] because it does not substantially burden the plaintiffs' religious exercise and because the government's regulatory scheme is the least restrictive means of furthering its compelling interests."

It added that "the regulations also do not violate the Free Exercise, Establishment, and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment."

Lawyer Lori Windham of the Becket Fund, which represented EWTN, said, "This is wrong."

"Our government wants to punish EWTN for practicing its faith," she said, vowing to go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange joined EWTN's case against the HHS mandate.

In his dissenting opinion, Judge Gerald Bard Tjoflat wrote, "The majority runs roughshod over the sincerely held religious objections of EWTN."

"Contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and voluntary sterilisation are not healthcare, and the government should not force EWTN to provide them as part of our employer-sponsored health plan," EWTN argued.