Magazine article The Christian Century

Hospitals with Church Ties Win Supreme Court Case on Employee Pensions

Magazine article The Christian Century

Hospitals with Church Ties Win Supreme Court Case on Employee Pensions

Article excerpt

The Supreme Court ruled that federal pension rules don't apply to religiously affiliated hospitals, a decision that could also affect similar institutions and their employees.

The 8-0 ruling handed down in June in favor of the hospitals--two with Catholic ties and one with Lutheran ties--reverses lower court decisions that sided with hospital workers who argued that the exemption from pension laws should not extend to hospitals affiliated with churches. Justice Neil Gorsuch did not participate in the decision because he was not on the court when the case was argued in March.

Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton revolved around the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, passed by Congress to ensure that companies invest and manage employee pension funds responsibly. Religiously affiliated hospitals have been allowed to take an exemption from ERISA afforded to churches and other houses of worship.

"The Supreme Court got it right," said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at Becket, a religious liberty law firm that filed an amicus brief on behalf of the hospitals. "Churches, not government bureaucrats ... should decide whether hospitals are part of the church."

The employees who sued the hospitals requested the same pension protections afforded to workers not employed by churches. Both defendants and plaintiffs agree that churches are exempted by ERISA. The court's ruling--if applied to other nonprofits--could affect a million employees nationwide. …

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