Updated:
June 5, 2017

Whether pension plans established by religiously affiliated health care providers are exempt as “church plans” from federal law protecting employees’ pension rights and retirement benefits.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) provides important protections for employees’ pensions, but the statute includes an exemption for a “church plan.”  In three consolidated cases, religiously affiliated health care providers argue that their pension plans fall within the “church plan” exemption, even though the plans were not “established” by a church. In an amicus brief filed with Americans United for Separation of Church and State and People For the American Way Foundation, the ACLU, ACLU of Illinois, ACLU of Northern California, and ACLU of New Jersey argue that extending the exemption to these large health-care institutions would violate the Establishment Clause by favoring religious employers at the expense of their employees’ important statutory rights.

Update (6/21/17): The Supreme Court held on statutory grounds that pension plans established by religiously affiliated health care providers are exempt as “church plans.”

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