Wyoming Catholic Church Settles Lawsuit With Feds Over Contraceptives
The Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne has settled in its favor its lawsuit against the federal government regarding the "contraceptive mandate" that has been argued in the courts for five years, Bishop Steven Biegler said.
"We really saw it as an issue regarding religious liberty, so we saw the settlement as a victory for religious liberty," Biegler said.
The lawsuit was settled in October, he said.
The conflict began with the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and its scheduled implementation in July 2014 with the requirement that employers offer health insurance, and many insurance plans included contraceptive services.
That put the Catholic Church in the position of possibly having to participate in third-party insurance plans that offered those services, and therefore placed a substantial burden on its free exercise of their religion under the First Amendment, he said.
Parishes were exempt from the contraceptive mandate, but the Catholic Church has numerous organizations that aren't technically churches including schools, colleges, religious orders and charitable organizations.
Those organizations were not exempt, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tried to propose inadequate compromises, Biegler said.
"They were offering, what they called, in quotes 'accommodations,' to appease those organizations, but they weren't really stepping back from those organizations having to basically support through insurance plans, insurance plans that really went against our teaching," he said.
The "contraceptive mandate" also included contraceptive services that would include abortifacients -- drugs that induced abortions, Biegler said. "It not only went against what we teach against contraception, but what we teach regarding abortion and really a number of other issues."
In January 2014, the diocese and other plaintiffs -- St. Anthony's Tri-Parish School in Casper and the Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, St. Joseph's Children's Home in Lusk, and Wyoming Catholic Charities -- sued the Department of Health and Human Services.
In March 2014, the diocese filed a motion for an injunction in Wyoming federal court to block the ACA's scheduled implementation in July 2014.
In April 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union said religious organizations have religious liberty, but they do not have the right to discriminate against women.
ACLU attorney Jennifer Horvath said the ACA does not substantially burden the diocese's practice of religion, because it allows them to object to third party insurers providing contraception.
Instead, the Catholic organizations are pushing another agenda, Horvath said. "This really isn't about religious freedom. It's about denying women's access to health care."
In June 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court cited the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act in its 5-4 ruling that closely held corporations with religious objections were not required to participate in the contraception mandate.
Last month, the federal government announced new regulations that provide broad protections to religious organizations opposed to the contraceptive mandate.
Soon after that, the Diocese reached a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.