Courts Give Last-Minute Relief To Non-Profits After Hobby Lobby

Kate Patrick Contributor
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Two federal courts granted a preliminary injunction to Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and the Diocese of Cheyenne immediately following the Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby on Monday, June 30.

“Thanks to the courts’ decisions, Eternal Word can now freely practice what they preach. The death knell is sounding for the HHS Mandate,” said Lori Windham, Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund and counsel for Eternal Word, in a press release. “The ruling in Hobby Lobby and then these two rulings in quick succession show that the HHS Mandate is on its last legs when it comes to religious non-profits. Government shouldn’t be in the business of forcing nuns to violate their religious convictions.”

EWTN, a non-profit television network founded by cloistered nun Mother Angelica in 1981, serves only to broadcast the nuns’ Christian beliefs. When the Affordable Care Act in 2012 threatened to force the nuns to include contraceptives in healthcare plans for employees, the nuns refused to comply with ObamaCare’s demands.

“As a tactical move, the federal government issued a new rule for how non-profits have to comply with the mandate, the same rule that you have to include contraceptives in your insurance plan,” said Daniel Blomberg, legal counsel for the Becket Fund. “Eternal Word was granted something called an accommodation, which mean that instead of putting contraceptives in their plan directly, they would sign a piece of paper and give it to a third party administrator who would put the contraceptives in the plan. The nuns said, ‘No that doesn’t work for us, we’re forcing someone else participate in that wrong thing as well. We can’t do that.'”

EWTN filed a lawsuit, asserting their First Amendment rights. When the district court ruled against ETWN in June, ETWN filed an emergency relief petition to the 11th Court of Appeals. Hours after the Supreme Court ruling on Hobby Lobby, the appellate court granted ETWN’s petition.

“Yesterday’s decision was a landmark decision that will protect religious liberty across the nation,” Blomberg said. “Religious ministries will have religious protection for those beliefs. They’re all going to benefit from yesterday’s decision. This was a huge win. In 24 hours you had three decisions in a row protecting non-profit ministries.”

Religious non-profits like ETWN and family-owned businesses like Hobby Lobby should expect more court victories, according to the Becket Fund.

“The district court said the same things the Supreme Court said yesterday, which is, ‘you should be providing these drugs, federal government, and not forcing religious groups to do it instead,'” Blomberg said.

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