A lot more than pensions at stake in case before Supreme Court

Could determine whether religious orders are considered part of the Church under the law

United States Supreme Court, January 12, 2015. (Credit:Penn State via Flickr) 

A Supreme Court case about pension plans of religious hospitals could decide something much bigger – whether religious groups are legally part of churches.

“There’s really a big problem if you decide ‘church’ is sort of narrowly ‘worship’,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

“That’s really something that a church should be deciding, whether they just worship or whether they go out and serve other people outside of the four walls of the sanctuary,” Rassbach told CNA.

The Supreme Court on Monday heard oral arguments in Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton, a consolidation of three cases involving the pension plans of religious hospitals like Advocate and St. Peter’s HealthCare System in New Jersey.

The employers are looking to move the plans, regulated like other plans of for-profit corporations, into a religious category exempt from some of those regulations.

The law in question, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, regulates pension plans of for-profit corporations, requiring the employers to hold an additional amount of funds in reserve. Setting up these reserves could be cost-prohibitive especially for community hospitals, some of whom “are not going to be able to do that,” Rassbach said.

“If Advocate and hundreds of other religious hospitals around the country were forced to follow for-profit rules, money currently used to serve the poor and inner city communities would be lost and many would be forced to shut down,” the Becket Fund argued.

Full story at Catholic News Agency.

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  1. Am I to believe that freedom of religion applies to Churches but not to religious groups?

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