Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Secular America?

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that church-affiliated hospital systems do not have to comply with a federal law governing employee pensions, overturning lower court decisions. Church-affiliated organizations are exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), a 1974 law that forces private employers to follow rules aimed at protecting pension plan participants. Employees accused the hospital systems of being big businesses posing as church organizations in order to avoid minimum funding and reporting requirements under ERISA. 

 Three hospital systems maintained that their religious affiliation made them exempt from ERISA. St. Peters is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. Dignity operates both Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals. Advocate is affiliated with the United Church of Christ and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor agreed with the ruling based on the text of the law. But, in a separate opinion, she wrote that she was "troubled" with the outcome, noting that some church-affiliated organizations operate for-profit subsidiaries, earn billions of dollars in revenues and compete with companies that must comply with ERISA,  adding that "employees - who work for organizations that look and operate much like secular businesses - potentially might be denied ERISA's protections."

 In 2014, the justices sided with Hobby Lobby, a retailer owned by conservative Christians, that objected to a federal requirement that it pay for insurance coverage for women's birth control, saying that violated a U.S. law protecting religious freedom.

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