By Zol87 from Chicago, Illinois, USA (Advocate Lutheran General Hospital) [CC BY-SA 2.0, GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Zol87 from Chicago, Illinois, USA (Advocate Lutheran General Hospital) [CC BY-SA 2.0, GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Supreme Court rules in favor of religiously affiliated hospitals; says they need not pay pensions

In a shock ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court passed a judgment that would free religiously affiliated hospitals from paying pensions to their employees.

The 8-0 ruling eliminates previously made decisions by lower courts concerning pension laws for hospitals associated with churches.

Eric Rassbach, Deputy General Counsel of Becket, a firm that specializes in religious liberty laws, believes the court made the right decision in the matter.

He also stated that churches should have the right to decide whether or not a hospital is part of the church. Adding, “It is simple common sense that nuns, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, seminaries, nursing homes, and orphanages are a core part of the church and not an afterthought.”

However, hospital workers were left furious at the ruling. They argue that it is unfair that religious employers who run hospitals as for-profit entities in competition with private/secular hospitals are now allowed to bypass employee protection laws.

Legal Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State Richard Katskee said, “The Supreme Court has put the retirement of hundreds of thousands of Americans at risk. These hospitals now have the right to use their religious affiliation to pocket hundreds of millions of dollars that they promised to their employees as retirement funds and pensions.”

Hospital workers are even calling the ruling a violation of the Constitution’s establishment clause which states that the Federal Government shouldn’t favor one religion over the other or even establish a religion.

Pension plans generally need to be funded and insured according to Federal Law. However, Congress has established laws exempting churches and other religious institutions from meeting pension requirements. This ruling applies to church-controlled plans as well.

In fact, religiously affiliated hospitals have been allowed these exemptions for decades.

The current case involves three such hospitals, namely, Advocate Health Care, Dignity Health, and St. Peter’s Healthcare System.

Though the hospitals in question have a combined employee figure of just 100,000, the ruling impacts similarly employed workers across the country.

Workers are even alleging Dignity Health the 5th largest healthcare provider in the entire country, underfunded its pension plan by over a billion dollars.

Justice Neil Gorsuch was not part of the ruling as the case had been filed prior to his appointment.

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