Friday, July 12, 2013

4th Circuit Rejects Religion-Based Challenges To Affordable Care Act Provisions and Upholds Employer Mandate

In Liberty University, Inc. v. Lew, (4th Cir., July 11, 2013), the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, in addition to broadly upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act's employer mandate (see Reuters coverage), rejected free exercise, RFRA, Establishment Clause and equal protection challenges to other provisions of the Act.  It held that:
Plaintiffs present no plausible claim that the Act substantially burdens their free exercise of religion, by forcing them to facilitate or support abortion or otherwise.  
The court also rejected challenges to the two narrow religious exemptions in the ACA:.
The first exemption Plaintiffs challenge is the individual mandate’s religious conscience exemption. See 26 U.S.C. § 5000A(d)(2)(A). Plaintiffs maintain that this exemption discriminates against their religious practice by applying only to sects that conscientiously oppose a all insurance benefits, provide for their own members, and were established before December 31, 1950. The religious conscience exemption adopts an exemption of the Social Security Amendments of 1965 under 26 U.S.C. § 1402(g), which courts have consistently found constitutional under the Establishment Clause and the Fifth Amendment.....
The second individual mandate exemption challenged by Plaintiffs is the health care sharing ministry exemption. See 26 U.S.C. § 5000A(d)(2)(B). Plaintiffs maintain that it unconstitutionally selects an arbitrary formation date of December 31, 1999 as the eligibility cutoff. But even if the exemption’s cutoff date is arbitrary, it is not unconstitutional. For neither the cutoff’s text nor its history suggests any deliberate attempt to distinguish between particular religious groups. Accordingly, the cutoff need only satisfy the Lemon test.
Finally the court refused to consider plaintiffs' newly-added challenge to the more-recently adopted contraceptive coverage mandate because the issue had not been raised previously in the case.