The Supreme Court has opened the door to a new challenge to President Barack Obama's sweeping health care reform law, just five months after upholding the law's individual mandate in a dramatic 5-4 decision.
The court decided on Monday that Liberty University, an evangelical institution in Virginia, must get a second hearing from a lower court of its challenge to the health care law's mandate that all large employers provide insurance to employees or pay a fine.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the case last year, saying the university couldn't challenge the employer mandate before it went into effect. The university argues that employers cannot be compelled to provide health insurance under the Commerce Clause, and that religiously affiliated institutions in particular should not be made to. (The university argues that some of its funds could end up indirectly financing abortions under the employer mandate, which would violate its religious principles.) The Supreme Court decided last June that individuals could be required to buy insurance under the law or pay a penalty, but did not specifically address the employer question.
The circuit court could decide the case as early as this spring, potentially setting the stage for another Supreme Court decision on the law.
The suit is not the first to challenge the health care law on the grounds that it violates employers' religious freedom. More than 40 lawsuits have been filed opposing the birth control mandate of the law, arguing that employers who object should not have to provide plans that cover contraception because it violates their First Amendment rights. Many of the suits are from religiously affiliated universities, but a few private businesses, including the crafts chain store Hobby Lobby, have also joined in. (Liberty has filed a separate suit addressing the contraception mandate.)
Adults who do not have health insurance and large employers who do not provide it will gradually begin paying fines starting in 2014.