Supreme Court Protects Pension Plans of Religious Schools, Colleges

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in support of pension plans for religious entities in a decision that provides important protections to Catholic schools and colleges.

The Court’s ruling in Advocate Healthcare Network v. Stapleton confirms that religious organizations not directly owned by a church “are part of the larger church and can offer tax-exempt church pension plans,” the Becket law firm said in its press release on the ruling.

The decision reversed an appeals court ruling and upholds longstanding policy that, under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, a pension plan maintained by a religious organization qualifies for the same exemptions allowed to churches.

Activists wanted to force religious organizations to use large, expensive plans designed for for-profit corporations. Almost 100 lawsuits have been brought against religious hospitals in the last four years. A Supreme Court ruling against the hospitals could have seriously impacted the finances of many Catholic schools and colleges.

In January The Cardinal Newman Society—together with seven Newman Guide-recommended Catholic colleges, other Christian colleges and the Pacific Justice Institute—filed an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court in support of the pension plan exemptions. The Catholic colleges included Benedictine College, Belmont Abbey College, John Paul the Great Catholic University, Northeast Catholic College, St. Gregory’s University, The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, and Wyoming Catholic College.

Amici share a common concern that Respondents’ interpretation of the Establishment Clause—if adopted by this Court—would broadly foreclose any government accommodation of religious exercise and thus impose severe burdens on religious colleges and universities, as well as other faith-based organizations,” the brief argued. It was prepared by attorneys of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher LLP and the First Liberty Institute.

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