CHEYENNE, Wyo. — In early May, a federal judge in Casper will hear a request from the Cheyenne Diocese and five other Catholic entities located in the diocese for an injunction against enforcement of the federal Department of Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate.
U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl has scheduled the hearing in a suit filed Jan. 30 by the diocese and Catholic Charities of Wyoming, St. Joseph's Children's Home in Torrington, St. Anthony Tri-Parish in Casper, John Paul II Catholic School in Gillette and Wyoming Catholic College in Lander.
The mandate, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, requires nearly all employers to provide their employees with health insurance coverage for contraceptives, some abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations. It includes an exemption for some religious employers that fit its criteria. The mandate does not include a conscience clause for employers who object to such coverage on moral grounds.
The statewide Cheyenne Diocese and the other Catholic institutions say the requirement violates their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion, as well as protections established under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
"We have a strong difference with the government about the HHS mandate and we look forward to the opportunity to present those differences to the court," Father Carl Gallinger, Cheyenne diocesan vicar general, told Catholic News Service April 16.
If the injunction is denied by Skavdahl, the Catholic organizations will file an appeal with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the priest said.
The American Civil Liberties Union April 15 asked the U.S. District Court in Casper for permission to file of a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the federal government's side in the lawsuit.
Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the national ACLU office in New York, told CNS April 17 the organization received permission and subsequently filed the brief.
"We have been filing friend-of-the-court briefs in almost all of the challenges," she said, and the Wyoming suit is "one of the many important cases challenging the contraception rule."
Currently, there are more than 70 lawsuits against the mandate filed by Catholic and other religious entities and some for-profit companies working their way through the courts.
Amiri argued the Obama administration's accommodation for nonexempt employers solves the moral objections and Catholic and other organizations have to the mandate. It creates no "substantial burden" because the process is similar, she said, to what employers had to do to keep contraceptive coverage out of employee health plans before the HHS mandate went into effect.
The accommodation requires nonexempt employers to use a third party to pay for coverage they find objectionable. They must fill out a government form directing the administrator of their health plan or another third party to provide the coverage.
But the employers opposing the mandate argue that even by filling out the form, they are still involved in facilitating access to coverage they find morally objectionable.
A statement issued by the Cheyenne Diocese in January when the suit was filed said that in addition to filling out the form, a nonexempt religious employer is required "to take numerous additional steps to ensure that their health plans serve as a conduit for the delivery of that coverage."
"I was very hopeful that national efforts to work with this administration and efforts to achieve some legislative relief (from the mandate) would have produced an amicable solution, but they have not" said Cheyenne Bishop Paul D. Etienne in a Jan. 30 statement. "I am now forced into a situation where I as a pastor must look to the best interests of the people and ministries entrusted to my care."
The coverage required by the federal government "is morally unacceptable," he said.