In a 2-1 decision, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against the EWTN Catholic Network in its battle against the Affordable Care Act insurance mandate requiring employer-sponsored plans to cover contraception and other procedures the religious media network says violated the tenets of the faith.
EWTN pointed out that the court said it did not doubt the company sincerely believed the mandate gave it the choice of honoring their religious beliefs or facing stiff penalties, but concluded that the accommodation was not a "substantial burden."
The court pointed out that EWTN can opt out of providing contraceptive coverage, and that "opting out imposes a substantial burden because the government requires a third party to provide contraceptive coverage after an eligible organization opts out."
The court concluded that "(1) the government has compelling interests to justify the accommodation, and (2) the accommodation is the least restrictive means of furthering those interests."
“We are extremely disappointed that the Court has refused to protect our religious freedom,” said EWTN Chairman and CEO Michael Warsaw. “This decision by the Court of Appeals ignores the arguments that EWTN and numerous plaintiffs around the country have made with regard to this mandate. In effect, this decision orders EWTN to violate its religious beliefs and comply with the government's HHS mandate or pay massive fines to the IRS.”
The case was consolidated with challenges from various Catholic groups, including a pair of Georgia Archdioceses.
The dissenting judge said that "the government cannot put religious believers to the choice of abandoning the commands of their faith or paying massive penalties unless it can show that it has no other way of achieving a compelling interest."
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