CASTLE ROCK, Colorado — A federal judge has ruled in favor of the Catholic Benefits Association and issued declaratory relief and a permanent injunction against a mandate requiring employers to provide coverage for contraception, even if they are opposed to such coverage on moral grounds.
U.S. District Court Judge David Russell’s ruling also eliminated $6.9 billion in fines that have accumulated against members of the association, based in Castle Rock.
“This is the tremendous win,” CEO Douglas G. Wilson said in a March 28 statement. “The first freedom in the Bill of Rights is the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. The court has rightly ruled that employers should not be forced to violate their beliefs and cover morally problematic elective and often low-cost choices that individuals may wish to make.”
The CBA represents more than 1,000 Catholic health care providers and was the largest single plaintiff challenging the mandate. It filed two federal lawsuits in 2014 on behalf of its members.
Russell ruled that his decision is permanent. The court’s injunction binds not only the current administration but future administrations, protecting CBA members from any other regulation in the future that tries to use the “women’s preventive services mandate” to force CBA members to violate their conscience.
The ruling in favor of the CBA stated that the federal government “violated RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act)” by trying to coerce members into providing coverage of contraception and abortifacients.
The contraceptive mandate was put in place in 2012 by the Department of Health and Human Services under the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. It required all employers, including, most religious employers to provide coverage for contraception. Only churches were declared exempt, but their hospitals, Catholic Charities agencies, schools and universities, and other Catholic entities were not exempt.
Dozens of Catholic groups sued over the mandate, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, who became the public face of the legal fight. The religious order won a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016, which was widely considered the beginning of the end of the contraceptive mandate.
On Oct. 6, 2017, the Trump administration issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate to include religious employers who object on moral grounds to covering contraception in their employee health insurance. The same day, the U.S. Department of Justice issued guidance to all administrative agencies and executive departments regarding religious liberty protections in federal law.
Dozens of Catholic groups that had challenged the law reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department last October.