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Domestic News | November 26, 2012

Liberty University gets another chance at Obamacare

Religious freedom

Supreme court rules school's challenge to employer and individual mandate deserves its day in court

United States Supreme Court building in Washington (©iStockphoto.com/VisualField)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday gave Liberty University another chance to challenge the individual and employer health insurance mandates that serve as the foundation for Obamacare.

Earlier this year, the justices declined to hear all pending challenges to the health care reform law after they upheld its constitutionality in June. But lawyers from Liberty Counsel, the legal group representing the school, refiled their appeal, insisting their case deserved a second look in light of the court's ruling.

Liberty, one of the largest Christian colleges in the country, filed the first private lawsuit against Obamacare in 2010. The school argued Congress lacked the authority to pass the healthcare reforms and insisted constitutional protections for freedom of religion should exempt employers from requirements to provide access to abortions or abortifacient drugs.

The appeals court ruled the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA), a statute that bars suits to restrain the collection of taxes, prevented the school from pursuing its challenge. It dismissed the case without hearing it. But the high court later ruled the AIA did not apply to the health care reform law's individual mandate. Given the court's interpretation, Liberty refiled its appeal.

Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University School of Law, applauded the high court's decision to breath new life into the case: "Our fight against Obamacare is far from over."

The case now goes back to the 4th Circuit for a full hearing. The Obama Administration did not oppose the decision, which may indicate the level of confidence it has in its arguments. According to the Supreme Court watchers at SCOTUSblog.com, the government's lawyers told the justices none of Liberty's remaining challenges had merit. They also suggested the Anti-Injunction Act still blocked the school's challenge to the employer mandate.

In a press release issued after Monday's ruling, Liberty Counsel attorneys said the decision paves the way for the case to go back to the high court in 2013, suggesting they might not like their chances at the 4th Circuit, based in Richmond, Va.

The Liberty case joins 40 other challenges to the health care reforms still percolating through the courts. Most of the challenges are to the so-called contraceptive mandate, which requires employers that offer health insurance to include coverage for birth control and abortifacient drugs. Christian colleges make up the largest group of plaintiffs, with 16 cases filed. Plaintiffs include Wheaton College, Geneva College, Biola University and Colorado Christian University.

The latest ruling in the nationwide fight over the mandate came just before Thanksgiving, when a federal judge in Oklahoma ruled the business regulations governing craft chain Hobby Lobby trumped its owners' religious beliefs. But federal courts in other jurisdictions have sided with business owners, granting temporary exemptions to the law while they prepare for trial. The supreme court will have the final say on the challenges, possibly as early as next year.