11th Circuit Court of Appeals Vacates Lower Court Ruling
Following a legal battle that has lasted nearly seven years, EWTN Global Catholic Network has prevailed in its lawsuit against the U.S. government over what has become known as the “HHS Contraception Mandate.” In an order by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit published Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, the court vacated a June 2014 decision against the Network by U.S. District Court Judge Callie Granade. The ruling by the appellate court follows an Oct. 5, 2018 settlement agreement between EWTN and the Department of Justice. Under terms of that settlement, the Network will not be required to provide contraception, sterilization and abortifacients in its employee health plan, something EWTN found morally objectionable.
“This moment has been a long time coming,” said EWTN Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael P. Warsaw. “Almost seven years and two presidential administrations later, the government and the courts have now realized what EWTN has been saying all along, that the HHS Mandate was an unconstitutional attempt to coerce us into violating our strongly held beliefs. This is the right outcome for EWTN and for all those who value religious liberty in America.”
EWTN’s original lawsuit was filed Feb. 9, 2012 in Federal District Court in Birmingham, Alabama against the Department of Health and Human Services, its Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and other related government agencies. That lawsuit sought an injunction against the imposition of the mandate as well as a declaratory judgement that it was unconstitutional. On March 22, 2012, the Attorney General of the State of Alabama filed a motion to join EWTN as a plaintiff in that suit.
EWTN’s first lawsuit was dismissed March 25, 2013 by Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn of the U.S. District Court in Birmingham, Alabama after the Obama administration promised it would amend the regulations.
On Oct. 28, 2013, EWTN filed a new lawsuit against the mandate after the promised revisions failed to address the Network’s objections. The State of Alabama and its then-Attorney General Luther Strange joined as co-plaintiffs. However, in June 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Callie Granade of Mobile, Alabama ruled against the Network. EWTN was immediately granted an injunction preventing the mandate from being imposed while it appealed the decision.
The Network appealed Judge Granade’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which held oral arguments on the case Feb. 4, 2015. A year later, on Feb. 18, 2016, a panel of judges voted 2-1 against EWTN. The court suspended that decision pending the outcome of the Zubik v. Burwell case, which was then pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Following the lead of the Supreme Court in its Zubik decision, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated its negative order against EWTN on May 31, 2016. In doing so, the court asked for further briefing on the matter while the parties worked toward a settlement.
Attorneys for EWTN and the Department of Justice negotiated terms and the government agreed that it would not enforce the HHS Mandate against EWTN. The government agreed that EWTN could ask the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the lower court’s decision. That settlement paved the way for the appellate court’s Nov. 29th order.
“I am grateful to our team of attorneys from Becket who have represented us from the beginning,” said Warsaw. “They have been a tremendous partner in this fight for religious liberty.” In reacting to the resolution of the case, Becket Senior Counsel Lori Windham stated: “EWTN has fought long and hard to ensure that its basic freedoms would be protected, and this victory ensures that EWTN can continue to serve as a voice for religious liberty for many years to come.”
EWTN Global Catholic Network, in its 38th year, is the largest religious media network in the world. EWTN’s 11 TV channels are broadcast in multiple languages 24 hours a day, seven days a week to over 300 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories. EWTN platforms also include radio services transmitted through SIRIUS/XM, iHeart Radio, and over 500 domestic and international AM & FM radio affiliates; a worldwide shortwave radio service; the largest Catholic website in the U.S.; electronic and print news services, including Catholic News Agency, “The National Catholic Register” newspaper, and several global news wire services; as well as EWTN Publishing, its book publishing division.