On Monday the Supreme Court paved the way for Christian college Liberty University to challenge Obamacare, ordering the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to consider the claim by the school that the individual and employer mandates for insurance coverage violate the school’s religious freedoms. The move opens a potential crack in the ruling this summer that upheld the health care law and places yet another legal challenge to health care reform based on religious grounds before the federal courts.
Liberty University’s legal challenge to the constitutionality of Obamacare was among the first filed. A federal district court rejected Liberty’s claims and a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit held 2-1 that the lawsuit could not move forward because the claims of injury to the school’s religious liberties was premature.
After the health care law was upheld in June, Liberty made a new filing with the court to argue its claims should be fully evaluated now that the overall constitutionality of the law had been determined. The Obama administration did not oppose Liberty’s request and added it did not believe their claims were of any merit.
The case now goes back to the appellate court for a full review of the claims the mandate requirements violate the school’s religious freedoms. The appeals court will likely ask the government and the college for new legal briefs to assess the effect of the Supreme Court ruling on Liberty’s claims before rendering a decision.
In some ways the Supreme Court order could simply be housekeeping. The previous challenges to the constitutionality of Obamacare did not reach this particular legal issue and, since it has been raised and was sitting out in the appellate circuit, it needs finality. But it’s hard not to see more here. Given the expansive look the Roberts Court has given to the idea of institutional religious freedom, and given the number of religious freedom challenges to bits or all of the law, it’s clear that religious conservatives believe they have a sympathetic federal judiciary, and today’s order suggests they might.