Should Charitable, Church-Run Organizations Be Subject to ERISA? A “Yes” Answer Would Affect Their Ability to Carry Out Their Charitable Missions by Subjecting Them to Prohibitive Costs
By Ken K. Gourdin
Salt Lake City’s Deseret News recently carried coverage from the Religion News Service’s Lauren Markoe about a “sleeper” United States Supreme Court case, Stapleton v. St. Peter’s Healthcare System, which has been scheduled for oral argument. For Markoe’s coverage as carried by the News, see the following address (this and all other links accessed April 2, 2017):
For the brief of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty as amicus curiae, see here:
The case concerns ERISA, the federal Employment Retirement Income Security Act, from which churches are exempt. The question the Court will examine is to whether the exemption covers such church-sponsored institutions as hospitals. Ruling that charitable, church-run organizations are subject to the Act would impose prohibitive costs upon them.
The article quotes Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund Eric Baxter, who notes:
To read the law [ERISA] as if it applies the exemption only to houses of worship wrongly separates hospitals and other religiously affiliated nonprofits from the faith that inspires them, said Baxter.
“Churches aren’t just organizations that conduct worship,” he said. “Churches go out and serve the [neediest] among us and they shouldn’t be penalized because they preach on Sunday and practice it during the week.”
After quoting the foregoing from Mr. Baxter, I responded:
Yes. Free exercise of religion involves much more than simply being allowed to do and to say what one wishes within the walls of one’s holy place on one’s holy day. Courts seem to have forgotten that in recent decades. Let’s hope that in this case, the Court remembers