By Bob Allen
A week after agreeing to decide whether mandated contraception coverage in the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday turned down a broader challenge raised by Baptist-affiliated Liberty University.
Justices decided without comment to leave standing a federal court ruling in July dismissing various challenges to the controversial law also known as Obamacare by plaintiffs including Liberty, a Christian university in Lynchburg, Va., founded by the late Jerry Falwell.
In addition to objections to required coverage of FDA-approved forms of contraception raised in a lawsuit by the Southern Baptist owners of Hobby Lobby that the Supreme Court accepted Nov. 26, lawyers for Liberty argued that Congress overstepped its bounds in passing a law that requires employers to purchase a product they do not want.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed in a July 11 decision finding mandated coverage a “valid exercise of Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause” similar to laws banning discrimination and setting a minimum wage.
Liberty lawyers also claimed religious liberty concerns that the law might require employers to facilitate or subsidize surgical abortion. The appeals court said the First Amendment does not exempt religious practices from a “valid and neutral law of general applicability.”
“The high court has decided to take up the HHS contraception and abortion drug mandate, but it is not ready yet to tackle the entire employer mandate,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel. “That challenge will wait for another day.”
Staver, a vice president at Liberty University and dean of the law school, said deciding the case “would have highlighted the absurdity” of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in 2012 upholding the individual mandate as a tax.
“Apparently the court was not willing right now to venture back into that morass,” Staver said. “We will wait on the court’s ruling next year to decide whether to file a new challenge.”
Founded in 1971 by Falwell’s congregation at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., Liberty became a partner of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia in 1999. Well-known Southern Baptists, including former Southern Baptist Convention President Jerry Vines, serve on the school’s board of trustees.