Supreme Court Allows Obamacare Challenge From Christian College

Photo of Obama with a group of healthcare professionals.

First thing after the Thanksgiving Holiday, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a Christian college could continue forward with its litigation challenging the Affordable Care Act, despite the fact that the court upheld the law in June of this year.

Lynchburg, Virginia’s Christian school, Liberty University, instituted a lawsuit based on First Amendment religious freedom grounds in the fall of 2011. The college was attemping to challenge Obamacare primarily as a tax and, at the time, a lower Federal court declined to hear the case, stating it didn’t have jurisdiction under the Federal Anti-Injunction Act. Essentially, the Anti-Injunction Act says that taxes can’t be legally challenged until they are actually assessed. Now that the Supreme Court has upheld Obamacare, the door swings wide open for Liberty to continue its legal battle, with, apparently, the approval of the Supreme Court.

The case itself challenges the individual mandate of Obamacare, which requires all people, by 2014, to obtain insurance or pay a penalty, and the employer mandate, which requires large employers to provide coverage for their workers. Liberty University, founded by the late Jerry Falwell, claimed, initially, that the contraception mandates of Obamacare infringe on religious freedom. The University believes that because the law grants exemptions to religious institutions but not to businesses run by religious people, therefore Congress is prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Counsel to Liberty University, Mat Staver, goes on:

“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.”

Liberty University is also claiming that there could be a challenge to Obamacare based on the equal protection and establishment clauses of the U.S. constitution. Counsel to Liberty claims that because the act requires companies which have over 50 employees to provide healthcare to those employees, this amounts to “special penalties” for those large employers, violating the equal protection clause, which states, “no state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Liberty University’s case will join approximately 40 other active cases attempting to challenge the Affordable Care Act on religious grounds.

Calling the contraception mandate an “abortion” mandate is an inflammatory tactic for the school, to say the least. Staver and Liberty University are seemingly trying to ignore the religious institution exemption and are seeking to push their pro-life views by claiming that the act exceeds its authority. Theoretically, Obamacare as a whole could be at risk if this lawsuit is successful, but that seems unlikely, as it would require the Supreme Court to either engage in a case-by-case analysis of which institutions are “religious enough” to be exempt, or allow an exemption for anyone who claims they are religious, own a business, and are offended by Obamacare’s contraception mandate.

Additionally, Politico notes:

“The 4th Circuit is known as one of the most liberal in the country. The three-judge panel that heard the case in May 2011 was made up of three judges appointed by Democratic presidents. And while they ruled that they couldn’t decide on the mandate yet because of the Anti-Injunction Act, two of the three suggested in concurring opinions that they would have ruled for the Obama administration if they had reached the merits.”