Supreme Court rejects challenge to Obamacare by Christian university

The challenge by Liberty University focused on congressional power under the commerce clause and broader claims that Obamacare violates religious rights. On Monday, the Supreme Court turned the appeal aside.

Jill Nance/News & Daily Advance/AP
Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli addresses the student body of Liberty University at their convocation on Oct. 28, 2013, at the Vines Center in Lynchburg, Va.

The US Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up an appeal filed by a Christian university in Virginia that sought to challenge several aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Lawyers for Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., had urged the high court to consider whether Congress has the power to impose a mandate on employers to provide a government-set level of health insurance to employees or face significant financial penalties.

They also argued that the ACA and its implementing regulations violate the university’s religious rights by forcing Liberty University and its officials to make monthly payments that they said would fund abortions and to provide contraceptives that violate sincerely held religious beliefs.

The justices did not comment on why they turned the appeal aside.

Last week, the high court agreed to hear two appeals filed by for-profit corporations arguing that the ACA violates their religious rights by forcing them to provide their workers with cost-free access to certain types of contraceptives that offend their religious beliefs.

Liberty University repeated that claim in its petition to the high court. Government lawyers said the university should be barred from raising a new issue that had not been briefed and argued in the lower courts.

The center of the Liberty University challenge to the ACA focused on congressional power under the Commerce Clause and broader claims that the law violates religious rights.

“Just as the attempt to force individuals to purchase a particular product exceeded the limits of the Commerce Clause, so too does Congress’ attempt to force employers to purchase the same unwanted product,” Mathew Staver wrote in his brief on behalf of Liberty University.

US Solicitor General Donald Verrilli urged the justices to reject the Liberty University petition. He said that Congress exercised its longstanding authority to regulate workers’ pay and that this activity is clearly within its power to regulate interstate commerce.

Congressional action in passing the employer mandate was justified under both the legislature’s Commerce Clause powers and its authority to impose and collect taxes, Mr. Verrilli said.

The solicitor general said Liberty’s lawyers were mistaken in their claim that the ACA requires employers to pay into a fund to pay for abortions.

“The provision on which petitioners rely applies only if individuals choose to enroll in a plan through a health insurance exchange that elects to cover abortions, for which federal funding may not be used,” he said.

The employer mandate and the minimum coverage requirements of the law do not substantially burden Liberty University’s exercise of religion, the solicitor general said.

The case was Liberty University v. Jacob Lew, Secretary of the Treasury (13-306).

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