Alabama’s EWTN fights to maintain religious liberty in America: opinion

Mother Angelica, founder of EWTN, in a photo taken last year. (File)

Around the time of our nation’s founding, the world was ruled by the whims of men. Whether through the hands of kings or caliphs, warlords or witchdoctors, fear and superstition reigned.

Then our Founding Fathers came along, and one of them, John Adams, reportedly once wrote, “Liberty would reign in America.”

Not gods. Not men. Only liberty, with equal justice under law. Adams and his fellow founders then established a limited government to help preserve and protect our nation’s unlimited resource — human freedom.

That’s why it’s so disheartening to step back and fully consider that the same government wants to force a Christian ministry to do something that clearly violates its denomination’s long-held beliefs.

ETWN Global Catholic Network, the Irondale-based media ministry founded by Mother Angelica, faces fines of $35,000 per day because it refuses to comply with an Obamacare mandate to provide its employees with healthcare coverage that includes birth control, drugs that can cause abortions and sterilization procedures.

Some think this issue was resolved when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month in favor of Hobby Lobby. However, the court only said that closely held corporations — i.e. family businesses — could be exempted from the mandate due to the owner’s religious beliefs. The justices said nothing about non-profits, which is how most ministries like EWTN are organized.

Hours after the Hobby Lobby decision was released, a federal court in Atlanta granted EWTN an injunction that temporarily prevents the government from collecting its fines, which could bankrupt organizations like EWTN.

“The Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case was a great affirmation of the constitutional right to freedom of religious expression,” said EWTN Chairman & Chief Executive Officer Michael P. Warsaw. “While the Hobby Lobby decision did not directly resolve EWTN’s case, this…injunction from the appellate court allows us to press forward without facing the government’s crushing fines.”

EWTN is appealing an earlier decision from a federal judge in Mobile who ruled that the ministry didn’t have the same protection that the mandate afforded churches (even though many churches correctly believe that the supposed “accommodation” still violates their constitutional rights).

What the White House needs to understand is that EWTN and other similar religious-based organizations view their work no differently than the churches they often serve. They believe that their work is a vocation — a calling from God — not merely an occupation to be regulated. Moreover, they’re more concerned with remaining true to the unchanging Word of God than the shifting laws of men. If the government forces a ministry to disobey God in order to remain in business, then many will simply go out of business. If opponents think they’re bluffing and that they’ll bend under financial pressure, then they know as much about religious conviction as they seem to know about religious liberty.

So, is the work performed by EWTN — which is clearly a Catholic organization — any different from the work performed at a parish church?

“The distinction between an organization that qualifies for the religious-employer exemption and one that does not has solely to do with the organization’s tax structure,” wrote the judge in Mobile who ruled against EWTN.

So it’s up to the Internal Revenue Service? Well, that’s comforting, especially since we’ve learned how fair that agency is to opponents of Obamacare.

Even so, the degree to which the government contorts its arguments to fit within the constitution demonstrates how remarkably far we’ve drifted from why our government was established — to protect liberty.

Tax structures? Religious-employer exemptions? Mandates that EWTN and the Little Sisters of the Poor provide things to their employees that they neither want nor their religion accepts? Our founders would find this whole discussion foreign to the ideals they established our nation upon.

Lori Windham, a lawyer with the Becket Fund, the organization that’s representing EWTN, said it best after the Hobby Lobby ruling: “It’s time for the government to stop fighting ministries like EWTN and the Little Sisters of the Poor, and start respecting religious freedom.”

Let’s hope the courts force it to do so, and that powerful declaration that “Liberty will reign in America” will remain true.

(J. Pepper Bryars grew up in Mobile and is now a writer living in Huntsville. Contact him at and