WASHINGTON – Religious objections to the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate have gained new life after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a federal appeals judge to reconsider a Christian university’s challenge to the health care law.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously dismissed Liberty University’s challenge to the law’s individual and employer insurance mandates as well as the subsequent mandate by the Department of Health and Human Services that employee health insurance cover contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs. While Liberty appealed to the Supreme Court, the court dismissed the appeal when it issued its groundbreaking decision upholding Obamacare in June.
But the High Court on Nov. 26 granted Liberty a new hearing, ordering the 4th Circuit to reconsider Liberty University v. Geithner in response to a new appeal Liberty filed after the June decision.
The nonprofit Liberty Counsel, representing the Virginia university, said the newest development revives the religious challenge to Obamacare, possibly returning the issue to the Supreme Court in 2013.
“Today’s ruling breathes new life into our challenge to Obamacare. Our fight against Obamacare is far from over,” said Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver, dean of Liberty University’s law school.
“Congress exceeded its power by forcing every employer to provide federally mandated insurance. But even more shocking is the abortion mandate, which collides with religious freedom and the rights of conscience.”
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) joined the legal fight in October, signing a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a joint challenge by evangelical Wheaton College in suburban Chicago and the Roman Catholic Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina. The ERLC was among 11 evangelical groups signing the brief filed by the Christian Legal Society in support of the Wheaton and Belmont Abbey appeal.
Liberty University’s challenge, filed in 2010, marked the first private lawsuit against Obamacare. According to Liberty Counsel, the original lawsuit said Congress lacked the authority to pass the health care law and challenged the government’s forced funding of abortion as unconstitutional, based on the First Amendment Free Exercise of Religion Clause and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In reconsidering the case, the appeals court could ask both sides for new legal briefs, according to news reports.
The Obama administration did not oppose the Supreme Court’s ruling but, according to news reports, told the court that none of Liberty’s remaining challenges hold legal merit and that its challenge to the employer mandate is blocked by the Anti-Injunction Act. The act was enacted in 1867 to stop federal courts from preventing the federal government from assessing and collecting taxes.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Diana Chandler.)