A Christian college’s attempt to free itself from certain provisions in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that it claims violate its religious conscience was defeated Thursday by a federal appeals court in Virginia.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a unanimous decision dismissed Liberty University’s lawsuit.
The lawsuit had claimed that the employer health insurance mandate of Obamacare ran contrary to its religious rights by mandating it provide students with coverage for abortion inducing drugs.
"Plaintiffs present no plausible claim that the act substantially burdens their free exercise of religion, by forcing them to facilitate or support abortion or otherwise," Judge James A. Wynn Jr., an Obama appointee, wrote in the opinion.
The law "allows an individual to obtain, and an employer to offer, a plan that covers no abortion services at all," he added.
The opinion was joined by Judges Andre M. Davis, another Obama appointee, and Diana Gribbon Motz (appointed by former President Bill Clinton).
The panel ruled in 2011 that the school’s lawsuit was “premature.” It wasn’t until after the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that Obamacare was constitutional as a “tax” that justices ordered the appeals court to reconsider Liberty’s case.
Mat Staver, the school’s attorney, said he plans to appeal Thursday’s decision.
"At least the court reached the merits and did not try to dodge the issues on procedural or standing grounds," he said in a telephone interview. "This clears the way to go to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will be the final stop anyway."
The Liberty lawsuit also challenged the so-called “individual mandate,” which requires individuals purchase health insurance of face a fine.
“In last year's decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court ruled the individual mandate is a constitutional exercise of congressional taxing power. A majority of the justices said the mandate did not fall under the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce,” a recent report explains. “That case did not address the employer mandate.”
“The appeals court said unlike the individual mandate, the employer requirement is a valid exercise of Congress's authority under the Commerce Clause. Unlike individuals who may be doing nothing, the court said, businesses by their very nature are engaged in commerce,” the report adds.
The appeals court said:
It has long been settled that Congress may impose conditions on terms of employment that substantially affect interstate commerce.
Requiring employers to offer their employees a certain level of compensation through health insurance coverage is akin to requiring employers to pay their workers a minimum wage.
Liberty is considering whether it will file a separate suit challenging the regulations, the school’s attorney said.
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