SCOTUS Directs Appeals Court To Address HHS Mandate Challenge

The Supreme Court has directed the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider a case that challenges the HHS mandate. In its ruling on November 26th, the high court vacated the appeals court’s prior dismissal of the challenge to the mandate by Liberty University, a Christian institution that has argued that the HHS mandate violates both the free exercise of religion, as protected by the Constitution, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

In its prior dismissal of the case, the Fourth Circuit held that Liberty University’s challenge was premature because the “tax” had not yet taken effect and, therefore, Liberty could not yet make its claims.

Mel Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, an independent, nonprofit organization that represented Liberty University, said the Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday did not surprise him.

“What they did today was the right decision,” Staver said. “They should have done that in June.”

Staver referred to the high court’s decision five months ago that ruled that ObamaCare’s individual health insurance mandate was constitutional as a tax. Following that decision, an appeal was filed by Liberty University and was turned down.

Staver indicated that the Fourth Circuit would likely issue a briefing schedule soon, with a decision by spring of 2013. He predicted that Liberty University v. Geithner could reach the Supreme Court by next fall.

“Whoever is the loser will have the right to petition, and they’ll have an answer back by fall 2013,” Staver said. “Now that the court has made the decision, it makes our case the nearest to the Supreme Court.”

The HHS mandate is a provision of ObamaCare that requires most employers to provide free contraception, sterilization procedures, and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees through their health insurance plans.

Regarding the mandate, Staver asserted, “This is not a situation where you can practice your religious belief and merely be inconvenienced. This is a situation where you cannot abide by your religious conviction and abide by ObamaCare at the same time - they are incompatible.”

Following Monday’s ruling, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said that Liberty University’s two lines of attack against ObamaCare “lack merit,” although he made no objection to the case being remanded to the Fourth Circuit.

Speaking on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Sister Mary Ann Walsh said that she welcomed the high court’s ruling.

“The decision by the Supreme Court to direct the Fourth Circuit to hear Liberty University’s appeal from the dismissal of its lawsuit is the right one,” Sister Mary Ann said.

Currently, there are over 40 lawsuits filed by both religious institutions and for-profit businesses against the HHS mandate.

Staver said that the fight to overturn the HHS mandate has brought Catholics and evangelical Christians together. He said that he frequently recommends the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ 2012 statement on religious liberty, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” as an important document for Christians throughout the country.


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