Religious University Gets Hearing on Health Law Exemption

The U.S. Supreme Court gave a Virginia university founded by Jerry Falwell a new chance to argue in a lower court that President Barack Obama’s health-care law doesn’t give religious objectors a broad enough exemption.

The justices today told a federal appeals court to revisit one aspect of Liberty University’s challenge to the health-care law and its requirement that people get insurance or pay a penalty. The high court upheld the law in June, saying that provision was a valid use of Congress’s taxing power. Today’s action doesn’t affect the June ruling.

Liberty, a Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia, is pressing claims the high court didn’t consider, arguing that the law’s exemptions for religious objectors are deficient. The university is challenging the law’s requirements on individuals and employers.

Such arguments haven’t gained traction in lower courts. A federal appeals court in Washington rejected similar religion-based arguments last year in a separate case.

A federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, threw out Liberty’s lawsuit last year without reaching the religious-exemption question. The panel said it lacked jurisdiction to consider Liberty’s arguments because of the Anti-Injunction Act, a federal law that bars challenges to taxes before they are assessed.

In its decision in June, the Supreme Court said the Anti-Injunction Act didn’t preclude judges from reviewing the law.

Today’s action marks a reversal for the Supreme Court, which rejected the Liberty appeal the day after the health-care decision. Liberty then asked the high court to reconsider, arguing that it hadn’t yet had a chance to press its religious-freedom arguments. The Obama administration said it didn’t object to Liberty’s request.

The case is Liberty University v. Geithner, 11-438.

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