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Court orders new look at health care challenge

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WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court has revived a Christian college's challenge to President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul, with the acquiescence of the Obama administration.

The court on Monday ordered the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., to consider the claim by Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., that Obama's health care law violates the school's religious freedoms.

The court's action at this point means only that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals must now pass judgment on issues it previously declined to rule on.

A federal district judge rejected Liberty's claims, and a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit voted 2-1 that the lawsuit was premature and never dealt with the substance of the school's arguments. The Supreme Court upheld the health care law in June.

The justices used lawsuits filed by 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business to uphold the health care law by a 5-4 vote, then rejected all other pending appeals, including Liberty's.

The school made a new filing with the court over the summer to argue that its claims should be fully evaluated in light of the high court decision. The administration said it did not oppose Liberty's request.

Liberty is challenging both the requirement that most individuals obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, and a separate provision requiring many employers to offer health insurance to their workers.

Liberty law school dean Mathew Staver said, "This case now will go back to the federal court of appeals where we will address the undecided issues that the Supreme Court did not address."

When Liberty's case was in front of the 4th Circuit, Judge Andre Davis broke with his colleagues who thought the challenge was premature. Davis said of Liberty's claims, "I would further hold that each of appellants' challenges to the act lacks merit."

The appeals court could ask the government and the college for new legal briefs to assess the effect of the Supreme Court ruling on Liberty's claims before rendering a decision.

Liberty's case joins dozens of other pending lawsuits over health reform, many involving the requirement that employer insurance plans cover contraception. These cases are working their way through the federal court system.

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

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