Wyoming diocese to appeal ruling denying injunction on HHS mandate


CASPER, Wyo. — A federal judge in Casper May 13 denied a request from the Cheyenne diocese and five other Catholic entities in the statewide diocese for an injunction against enforcement of the federal Department of Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate for employers.

U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl ruled in lawsuit 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.

A hearing in the case took place earlier in May, with attorney David Raimer representing the Catholic groups and attorney Julie Saltman representing HHS and other defendants, including the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Cheyenne diocese said Skavdahl’s decision conflicted with federal court rulings in several other lawsuits brought against the mandate by other Catholic dioceses and organizations.

“Since the challenged regulations take effect on July 1, 2014, and would force the plaintiffs to violate their deeply held Catholic beliefs or face crippling fines and penalties for noncompliance, we will appeal this decision and seek relief from the appellate court,” the diocese said in a statement.

The appeal will be filed with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

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 certain criteria. The mandate does not include a conscience clause for employers who object to such coverage on moral grounds.

Skavdahl said the Catholic plaintiffs were not entitled to an injunction to block the mandate, because the Obama administration allows nonexempt employers to use a third party to pay for coverage they find objectionable.

These employers must fill out a government form directing the administrator of their health plan or another third party to provide the coverage.

Raimer argued at the hearing that the Wyoming diocese and the other Catholic entities in the suit “sincerely believe that they cannot fill out that self-certification form without violating their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

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 (contraceptive) coverage.”

The diocese and the other Catholic groups argue that overall the mandate violates their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion as well as protections established under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.