Wyoming Catholic groups challenge feds on ObamaCare contraception mandate

Catholic organizations in Wyoming filed a federal lawsuit Thursday challenging the birth-control coverage requirement in federal government's health care overhaul.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne, which covers the entire state, together with a number of Catholic schools and charities, filed the lawsuit Thursday in Cheyenne.

The lawsuit names Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and several other federal officials and agencies.

It charges that the requirement violates constitutional principles of religious freedom for the groups to be forced to pay for insurance coverage for non-ministerial workers that covers contraception and abortion services.

The lawsuit states that religious schools and charities wouldn't meet the government's definition of "religious employers" and, accordingly, would have to provide the insurance coverage.

The lawsuit was posted on the court's Internet site shortly before 5 p.m. An attempt to reach the press office with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services after business hours Thursday was not immediately successful.

The Rev. Carl Gallinger, vicar general of the Cheyenne diocese, said Thursday that he's not aware of any similar legal action by the diocese in the past.

"It's incredibly unfortunate that the federal government has decided to challenge religious freedom," Gallinger said. "And that's what we want to try to address through the complaint, that the guarantee of religious freedom is certainly enshrined in the First Amendment."

Gallinger said the case is not only about the right to worship, "but also about the right to contribute through acts of faith to the common good of society. And prior to the mandate, the federal government honored that right."

Faith-affiliated charities, hospitals and universities have filed dozens of similar lawsuits around the nation. Federal courts have issued differing interpretations, and the issue appears to be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court for a resolution.

It's possible the Supreme Court could resolve the issue before the Wyoming case is resolved, Gallinger said. However, he said, "it certainly doesn't preclude us from making the filing."

In a prepared statement released on Thursday, Bishop Paul D. Etienne said he had hoped that legislative efforts to resolve the issue would be successful.

"The requirements of the HHS mandate that these religious organizations, through our group health plan or through a third-party administrator, provide access to these morally objectionable services is morally unacceptable," Etienne said.