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Liberty University’s ongoing suit challenging health care reform moves to oral arguments in U.S. Court of Appeals

Evangelical college Liberty University on Tuesday resumes an ongoing lawsuit against the federal government, claiming that provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care of Act of 2009 are unconstitutional.

Partner institution Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit law firm that traditionally defends right-wing causes, is representing the university and two private individuals, Michele Waddell and Joanne V. Merrill, in the lawsuit (PDF), which was first filed by Liberty Counsel on March 23, 2010, the same day President Obama signed the health care bill into law. The federal suit, first filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, challenges both the individual and employer mandates and centers around the complaint that the faith-based university could not refuse insurance companies that cover abortion or other health care services the university considers objectionable. Liberty Counsel argued that the new health care law violates the university’s rights as a religious institution but lost the case.

Liberty Counsel has since appealed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. the oral argument in the appeal will be heard at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., to be followed by a press conference.

In a press statement released Monday, Liberty Counsel said it expects a ruling to be decided by the end of the year at the case will likely move on to the Supreme Court.

“I am looking forward to the argument tomorrow,” said Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University School of Law, in the statement. ”This massive health insurance law goes beyond the outer limits of the Constitution. It is a big step toward a centralized government. The stakes riding on this lawsuit are high. This case goes beyond health insurance and is more about the role of the federal government to control private decisions and burden the free enterprise system.”

Specifically, plaintiffs are suing U.S. Treasury Department secretary Timothy Geithner, Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Labor Department secretary Hilda L. Solis and U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., and claiming that certain provisions of the health care act violate the following constitutional amendments in the Bill of Rights:

  • First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
  • Fifth Amendment: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
  • 10th Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

Liberty Counsel has also argued that the university should be exempt from the health care act under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (which was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1997). In February, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a friend-of-the-court brief, arguing that religious beliefs should not dictate access to health care service for others.

This lawsuit represents the first challenge to the health care law to be argued at the appellate level.

A separate suit, which will be heard in the same court following Staver’s testimony, Commonwealth of Virginia, et al. v. Kathleen Sebelius, challenges the individual mandate in the health care act but not the employer mandate.

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