Press Release

Religious hospitals go to the Supreme Court High Court to hear case of non profit Protestant and Catholic hospitals early next year

Media Contact

Melinda Skea 202-349-7224 media@becketlaw.org

Additional Information

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court decided today to review the case of several nonprofit Protestant and Catholic hospital ministries that are being threatened by lawyers who want to prevent them from participating in their church pension plans.

Advocate Healthcare System, St. Peter’s Healthcare, and Dignity Health are driven by their faith to provide compassionate care, wellness services and free clinics for those in need, particularly juvenile victims of abuse, mentally disabled or violence-prone youth, and the poor. They also provide generous pension benefits to their employees. Yet their mission and the people they serve face a grave threat from trial lawyers who say that these openly religious hospitals are not part of the church and therefore cannot participate in a church pension plan. If they succeed, these lawyers will be paid millions of dollars in court fees and will possibly put several community hospitals who serve the poor out of business.

“The lawyers who brought these cases are like Robin Hood in reverse: stealing from hospitals who serve the poor in order to line their own pockets,” said Eric Rassbach, Deputy General Counsel at Becket Law. “What’s worse is that they want the Court to declare that Christian hospital ministries aren’t actually part of the church. We hope the Court will reject their crabbed view of Christian charity.”

These faith-driven hospitals also provide generous benefits to their employees, including comprehensive church pension plans. Yet their beliefs and the charitable work they do are being threatened for no reason: a group of plaintiffs’ lawyers are targeting these hospitals for a payoff, dragging them to court and demanding that they pay their attorney fees. The lawyers argue that the hospital ministries are not religious enough to have a tax-exempt church pension plan under The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). However, it is not the job of lawyers to decide that hospitals can’t be part of a church, and the IRS has rightly viewed these ministries as part of a larger church for over 30 years.

The legal campaign against faith-based hospitals began in 2013. In 2016 three of the cases—involving hospitals affiliated with the Lutheran, Catholic and United Church of Christ churches—were appealed to the Supreme Court, while almost a hundred more are pending in lower courts across the country. In August 2016, Becket filed a friend-of-the-court brief at the Supreme Court supporting the hospitals and their right to freely exercise their religious-based mission to provide compassionate and excellent healthcare according to their faith.

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, please contact Melinda Skea at media@becketlaw.org or 202-349-7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

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Becket  Law  is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditionsand has a 100% win-rate before the United StatesSupreme Court.For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians  (read more).