Supreme Court To Hear Religious Hospital Pension Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear three important cases that could affect the pensions of millions of people who work at religious hospitals.

The cases – Dignity Health v. Rollins, St. Peter’s Healthcare System v. Kaplan and Advocate Healthcare Network v. Stapleton – deal with a federal law known as the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

ERISA is designed to protect workers’ retirement savings by requiring employers that offer pension plans to meet certain basic standards, such as adequately funding the plan, informing employees about it and insuring it.

Houses of worship are exempt from ERISA under the theory that government should not meddle in the internal financial affairs of churches. However, in recent years, some religiously affiliated entities, such as hospitals, are claiming the ERISA exemption.

As a result, hundreds of thousands of employees of religiously affiliated hospitals, most of whom perform wholly secular duties, aren’t getting ERISA’s protections, and their pensions may be at risk.

Look for more on this case in the February issue of Church & State.