The Religious Liberty Challenge to Obamacare

This week, the Supreme Court resurrected a case challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare, which had been denied by the federal appeals court in Virginia on procedural grounds. This is a win for opponents of Obamacare, but a modest one.  

The Virginia case, brought by Liberty University, is not a replay of last summer’s broad challenge to Obamacare, where the Supreme Court upheld the law as a valid taxing measure. Thanks to Chief Justice John Roberts, the argument that Obamacare exceeds the powers granted to the federal government by the Constitution is closed.

Instead, this is a much narrower challenge based on religious liberty: Liberty University argues that Obamacare’s requirement that employer health policies pay for federally specified health procedures, such as abortions, violates its religious beliefs. The bad news is that this is a narrow claim that would not overturn Obamacare as a whole, only how it is applied to religious institutions. The good news is that Liberty University’s chances of success are very high.  Of late, the Court has been quite protective of religious freedom — it recently unainamously rejected, for example, the Obama administration’s arguments that federal employment discrimination laws should apply to the firing of religious personnel by a church.

Liberty University’s case may not end up being the vehicle, but the rights of religious minorities under Obamacare will reach the Supreme Court sooner rather than later. There are other cases moving up to the federal appeals courts also challenging Obamacare’s insurance mandates for violating religious freedom. Although there are good arguments on the other side (federal laws of general applicability are not unconstitutional as applied to religious groups), the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which only permits federal infringement of religious freedom for a compelling government interest) should require the Court to side with religious minorities.

  1. Illiniguy

    John:  Do you see any prospect here of the Court ruling that providing health care is an administrative rather than core function of the church or hospital, thus allowing the mandate to stand? Is there such a distinction in the law?

    (God, I wish I’d waited to go to law school; I’d have gotten so much more out of it!)

  2. ConservativeWanderer
    Illiniguy: John:  Do you see any prospect here of the Court ruling that providing health care is an administrative rather than core function of the church or hospital, thus allowing the mandate to stand? Is there such a distinction in the law?

    (God, I wish I’d waited to go to law school; I’d have gotten so much more out of it!) · 0 minutes ago

    If the Court can find a “right” to abortion in the Constitution, they can find anything.

  3. Douglas

    Can’t say I’m really hopeful of a Roberts Court being sympathetic to the liberty argument. I see this the same way I saw your podcast partner’s question (“Will the courts return to protecting economic liberty?”… nope).

  4. Douglas
    ConservativeWanderer

    Illiniguy: John:  Do you see any prospect here of the Court ruling that providing health care is an administrative rather than core function of the church or hospital, thus allowing the mandate to stand? Is there such a distinction in the law?

    (God, I wish I’d waited to go to law school; I’d have gotten so much more out of it!) · 0 minutes ago

    If the Court can find a “right” to abortion in the Constitution, they can find anything. · 29 minutes ago

    We have judges that think the government can make us eat our broccoli. Liberty and limited government are dead, my friend. Bury them. They probably died on the table as far back as Wickard vs. Filburn anyway. We’ve just been doing CPR for 70 years. We’re now in a living constitution legal system that recognizes no concrete limits to government power or authority.

  5. Vance Richards

    “would not overturn Obamacare as a whole, only how it is applied to religious institutions.”

    Why just institutions? Don’t private business owners have a right to religious liberty as well?

  6. genferei

    the rights of religious minorities under Obamacare will reach the Supreme Court sooner rather than later

    Did you really mean to say ‘minorities’?

  7. Fake John Galt

    Since SCOTUS views Obamacare as a tax this case has no merit. It has long been established that an entity must pay a tax even if they disagree with what the tax is being used for. An example would be that a religious person must pay their taxes even if they disagree with a war that the country may be financing with these taxes. This fight is over folks, we lost.

  8. Israel P.

    The government will present this like the high school teacher relating to the student who says “Why didn’t I do my homework? It’s against my religion.”

  9. ConservativeWanderer

    John Roberts will find a way to save ObamaCare yet again.

  10. Sister

    But if SCOTUS views Obamacare as a tax, what about tax-exempt institutions?

  11. jmelvin

    I believe it would apply to private business owners because the Liberty University case includes private business owners as part of the suit so that the suit would include non-religious institutions as well.  This information is going from memory having recently heard LU’s chief legal counsel speak on a local radio station (Lynchburg, VA the home of LU). 

    Vance Richards: “would not overturn Obamacare as a whole, only how it is applied toreligious institutions.”

    Why just institutions? Don’t private business owners have a right to religious liberty as well? · 15 hours ago

  12. Fake John Galt

    But there is no constitutional requirement that any institutions has to be tax exempt. Thus it would be legal.

  13. SunnyOptimism

    Don’t worry, Justice Roberts will simply declare that the HHS rules being drafted are not mandates at all but really “taxes” (“…a rose by any other name…” and such…), taxing power power is broadly constitutional ergo all HHS rules are constitutional. QED

    There, now was that so hard….

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