A Christian university's lawsuit against the Obama administration's health care law must be heard by a federal appellate court so its issues can be resolved properly, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The ruling "breathes new life into our challenge" to the Affordable Care Act, said Mathew D. Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, which represents the petitioners. "Our fight against Obamacare is far from over."
The petitioners are the private Christian college Liberty University and two Christians, Michele Waddell and Joanne Merrill. The university argues that it does not want to be forced to buy insurance as prescribed by the Affordable Care Act. All of the petitioners object to paying for insurance that is likely to include coverage for abortion. Such a mandate, they said, violates their rights to religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
Liberty University filed its first lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act shortly after President Obama signed the law in March 2010.
Mr. Staver is also dean of the Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Va.
The new health care law requires virtually all Americans to have some kind of health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty. The law also requires all employers with 50 or more employees to provide them with health insurance.
In 2011, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond declined to address the substance of the Liberty University petitioners' lawsuit, saying the case was premature and the individuals had no standing because no health care penalties (taxes) had been demanded or paid yet.
In June, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act by a 5-4 majority, saying the law was constitutional because Congress had the power to levy taxes.
It upheld the individual mandate but did not address the employer mandate or the religious liberty arguments.
In their July petition to the Supreme Court, Mr. Staver and his colleagues argue that their case should be sent back to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals for a full hearing.
Unless the substance of their case is reheard, Mr. Staver wrote, "the petitioners will remain in limbo and their claims will fade into oblivion."
On Monday, the high court agreed to the rehearing and remanded the case, Liberty University v. Geithner, to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
While Mr. Staver said the new hearing may "pave the way" for the case to return to the Supreme Court in 2013, writers at Forbes.com did not offer much hope for a victory for Liberty University, which was founded by the now deceased Rev. Jerry Falwell.
Forbes.com contributing blogger Rick Ungar noted that the Virginia court is "one of the most liberal appellate courts in the nation."
"Even the U.S. Solicitor General [Donald B. Verrilli Jr.] declined to intervene, figuring Liberty will go down to defeat once again," opined Forbes senior editor Daniel Fisher.
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