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Appeals court upholds Obamacare in Liberty U challenge

Obamacare’s mandate for employers to provide health insurance to most employees is “no monster,” a panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has decided in upholding the health insurance requirements of the law.

The unanimous three-judge panel rejected a challenge mounted by Liberty University, which contended the health care law violated its religious rights by requiring coverage for abortion-inducing drugs. The school also objected to the requirement that individuals buy health insurance or pay a penalty.

The panel concluded that Congress had a rational basis for finding that employers’ provision of health insurance coverage substantially affects interstate commerce. The appeals court said the U.S. Supreme Court already upheld the individual mandate as a constitutional “tax.” The employer mandate should be viewed the same way, the court said.

Moreover, the court rejected the claim that the Affordable Care Act “substantially burdens” the free exercise of religion by forcing the plaintiffs to facilitate or support abortion. The Act allows insurance plans that cover no abortion services except for cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother, and allows plans that cover no abortion services at all, the court said.

The panel that rejected Liberty’s complaint consisted of two Obama appointees — Judges Andre Davis and James Wynn — and Bill Clinton appointee Diana Motz.

Lynchburg U.S. District Judge Norman Moon initially ruled both provisions were constitutional, but the 4th Circuit vacated the ruling, holding the court lacked authority under the Anti-Injunction Act to hear a challenge to the law’s constitutionality until the law was fully implemented in 2014.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate in another case in June 2012, but did not consider the employer mandate.

The court initially dismissed Liberty University’s claim after the ACA ruling but changed course in November. It sent the case back to the 4th Circuit for a decision on the employer mandate, which requires certain employers to maintain a minimum level of health insurance coverage for their employees.

In affirming Moon’s decision to dismiss the LU complaint, the 4th Circuit panel declined to consider the constitutionality of regulations implementing the ACA.

“I am glad the court reached the merits on the employer mandate, even though the court got it wrong, because this clears the way for the case to now go to the Supreme Court,” said Mat Staver, dean of the Liberty University law school and founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel.

In a news release, Liberty Counsel noted the appeals court ruled that Liberty University and the individual plaintiffs had legal standing to bring the case and the Anti-Injunction Act did not bar the case from being heard.

Our sister papers, The Daily Record and Lawyers USA, and the Associated Press contributed to this item.

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