TV Network Started by Cloistered Nun Sues Sebelius

By Terence P. Jeffrey | February 9, 2012 | 4:27pm EST

Mother Angelica

( - Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN)--founded in 1981 by Mother M. Angelica, a cloistered Roman Catholic nun belonging to the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration--has filed suit against Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and other senior officials in the Obama administration arguing that a new regulation requiring health-care plans to cover sterilizations and contraceptives—including those that cause abortions—is a violation of the organization’s First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.

“EWTN’s sincerely held religious beliefs prohibit it from providing coverage for contraception, sterilization, abortion, or related education and counseling,” says a complaint the network filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. The network is headquartered in Irondale, Ala.

In addition to Sebelius, the suit also names as defendants Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

EWTN says that it is the world’s largest Catholic media network. According to its complaint, it produces eight different video, radio and Internet services and reaches 217 million homes in 144 countries. The network has 175 affiliated broadcast stations in the United States alone.

“EWTN airs family and religious programming from a Catholic point of view that presents the teachings of the Catholic faith as defined by the Magisterium (teaching authority) of the Catholic Church,” the networks says in its suit.  “Additionally, it provides spiritual devotions from Catholic religious practice, and airs daily live Masses and prayers. Providing more than 80% original programming, EWTN offers talk shows, children’s animation, teaching series, documentaries, and live coverage of Catholic Church events.”

In its complaint, the Catholic TV network specifically explains its adherence to Catholic teachings on abortion, contraception and sterilization—the church teachings the HHS regulation would force Catholics to violate.

“EWTN thus holds and actively professes religious beliefs that include traditional Christian teachings on the sanctity of life,” says the complaint. “It believes and teaches that each human being bears the image and likeness of God, and therefore that all human life is sacred and precious, from the moment of conception. EWTN therefore believes and teaches that abortion ends a human life and is a grave sin.”

“EWTN’s religious beliefs also include traditional Christian teaching on the nature and purpose of human sexuality,” says the complaint. “In particular, EWTN believes, in accordance with Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, that human sexuality has two primary purposes: to ‘most closely unit[e] husband and wife’ and ‘for the generation of new lives.’ Accordingly, EWTN believes and actively professes, with the Catholic Church, that ‘[t]o use this divine gift destroying, even if only partially, its meaning and its purpose is to contradict the nature both of man and of woman and of their most intimate relationship, and therefore it is to contradict also the plan of God and His Will.’

“Therefore,” complaint continues, “EWTN believes and teaches that ‘any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation, whether as an end or as a means’—including contraception and sterilization—is a grave sin.”

The complaint then says: “EWTN cannot provide health care insurance covering artificial contraception, sterilization, or abortion, or related education and counseling, without violating its deeply held religious beliefs.”

“The Mandate and Defendants’ threatened enforcement of the Mandate violate EWTN’s rights secured to it by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the complaint concludes.

The lawsuit is being handled for EWTN by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit law firm that specializes in First Amendment cases.

“The federal government cannot force people to violate their religion like this,” said Mark Rienzi, a constitutional law professor at Catholic University of America, who is the senior counsel at the Becket Fund. “Mother Angelica founded EWTN to spread the teachings of the Catholic Church—not to betray them.”

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