June 6, 2017: The United States Supreme Court yesterday (June 5) announced a decision extending the religious exemption in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to faith-based hospitals even if the pension plans involved were not started by a church. On December 21 last year Adventist Today reported that a lawsuit similar to the ones involved in this decision had been filed against the Adventist Health System (AHS) based in Florida.
The Adventist denomination’s General Conference (GC) office of general counsel filed an amicus curiae brief in the case that was decided yesterday. The court’s decision yesterday followed much the same reasoning as that suggested in the GC brief. It appears that this decision will settle the Donna Sheedy lawsuit against AHS.
ERISA is a law regulating the under-funding of pension plans. The exemption alleviates a major financial burden for faith-based hospitals, including those operated by Adventist health ministries.
The decision was unanimous in a court that is often sharply divided which may portend decisions on other controversial issues based on religious beliefs. It may also have opened up a new front for litigation over employee retirement plans; challenges in state courts under state laws.