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First Liberty Statement on SCOTUS “Church Plan” Decision

SCOTUS affirms religious exemption to ERISA for both houses of worship and ministries

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June 5, 2017

June 5, 2017—Today, the Supreme Court of the United States, in the case of Advocate Health Care Network, et. al, v. Stapleton, unanimously protected religious organizations by relieving them of the government-imposed burdens of the Employment Retirement Income Securities Act (ERISA) of 1974, in keeping with the principle that the government is not fit to decide which religious organization are or are not religious enough to be considered a church.

The following statement may be attributed to Justin Butterfield, Senior Counsel and Director of Research and Education for First Liberty Institute:

The History of the United States of America is one requiring the government to respect the religious freedom and autonomy of its houses of worship and religious organizations. The Supreme Court’s decision today respects that great history and tradition, allowing churches, synagogues, mosques, and religious ministries to pursue their religious mission without the weight of government bureaucracy and regulation hindering their efforts and intruding upon their mission.

In 1977, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tried to declare that Catholic nuns operating a hospital was not a “religious function.” Congress responded by enacting ERISA, preventing the IRS from deciding what is or is not a church. Today, the Supreme Court unanimously recognized that Congress’s amendment of ERISA continues to protect religious organizations from the burdens of ERISA, foreclosing the possibility that the IRS could bankrupt a religious organization simply because it does not believe that the organization is religious enough.

First Liberty Institute filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, Cardinal Newman Society, Belmont Abbey College, Colorado Christian University, John Paul the Great Catholic University, and other religious organizations explaining why the Supreme Court should affirm the religious exemption provided to ERISA. Justice Kagain authored the opinion of the Court in which all justices joined, except newly confirmed Justice Gorsuch, who took no part in the consideration of the case. Justice Sotomayor wrote a concurring opinion.

To learn more about First Liberty’s clients, go to FirstLiberty.org.

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