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Healthcare reform law challenged on religious grounds, too

The Thomas More Law Center in Michigan and Liberty University in Virginia, abortion foes, each filed suit challenging the new healthcare reform law. The law treats religions unequally, they say, and forces adherents to be part of a healthcare system that violates their religious beliefs on abortion.

By Staff writer / March 26, 2010

Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the new healthcare reform law on religious grounds.

Caroline Groussain/AFP/Newscom/File

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President Obama’s healthcare reform law is coming under attack by those who claim it violates the separation of church and state.

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At least two lawsuits have been filed challenging the new healthcare mandate on religious grounds.

One was filed by a Michigan-based group, the Thomas More Law Center. The other was filed on behalf of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., which was founded by the late Jerry Falwell.

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Both groups oppose abortion and argue that forcing individuals to participate in a healthcare system that supports abortions violates their First Amendment right to freely follow their sincerely held religious beliefs.

In addition, both groups argue that the law empowers the national government to draw unconstitutional distinctions among and between religious groups in the US and to reward certain favored groups with exemption from the mandate. Congress wrote an exemption for religious sects opposed to the provision of public or private insurance.

Other lawsuits

Most of the attention surrounding legal challenges to the healthcare reform law has centered on arguments that Congress exceeded its authority to regulate interstate commerce and that the measure violates the 10th Amendment’s protection of state sovereignty.

Those arguments form the centerpiece of lawsuits filed Tuesday by 13 attorneys general in a Florida federal court and by the Virginia attorney general in federal court in Richmond.

The Thomas More Law Center and Liberty University suits repeat those arguments. But they also challenge the law on freedom of religion grounds.

Church-state entanglement alleged

Specifically, they note that the law exempts certain “recognized” religions from compliance with the healthcare insurance mandate. The law offers some groups a religious exemption from participation in the new reform effort, but not other religious groups. This discrimination is an unconstitutional entanglement between government and religion, they say.

The Constitution’s First Amendment says in part that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

“The act’s religious exemption violates the Establishment Clause in that it grants to [the executive branch of the national government] discretion to determine which religion is ‘recognized’ and demonstrates a preference for one denomination over another,” the Liberty University suit says.

“The act’s religious exemption is a per se violation of the Establishment Clause in that it vests in [the national government] the right to determine what is a recognized religious sect entitled to exemption under the act, and thereby discriminates between and among religions by preferring a ‘recognized’ religion over one deemed not recognized,” the suit says.

The Thomas More Law Center suit raises a similar argument but says the new law violates the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.

“By providing some religious exemptions from the mandates of the Health Care Reform Act, but forcing [objecting religious individuals] to contribute to the funding of abortion in violation of their deeply held religious convictions, defendants have deprived plaintiffs of the equal protection of the law,” the Thomas More suit says.

The Liberty University suit says the new law places school officials in the position of having to choose between upholding their religious convictions or complying with government mandates.

“Liberty University has a sincerely held religious belief that it should play no part in abortions, including no part in facilitating, subsidizing, easing, funding, or supporting abortions since to do so is evil and morally repugnant complicity,” the suit says.

The law forces the school officials to choose between “engaging in sinful behavior or paying a punitive penalty for refusing to compromise their religious beliefs,” the suit says.

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