There are around 100 similar lawsuits involving religious hospitals – many of which are Catholic, Rassbach noted. New litigation is "taking from the poor to give to the rich class-action lawyers," he argued.
Not only did the courts recognize that these religious entities were eligible for the pension exemption, but the IRS did as well, he maintained.
This question was raised in Monday's oral arguments, where Justice Stephen Breyer pressed James Feldman, representing the respondents suing the health care networks, on whether orders like the Little Sisters of the Poor should be recognized as part of churches.
Justice Breyer asked "if it's a legitimate organization like, let's say the Little Sisters of the Poor, really affiliated with the church," if they would be recognized as part of a church.
The U.S. bishops' conference and religious freedom legal groups like the Becket Fund and Alliance Defending Freedom have sided with the health care networks in the case, saying that it is a religious freedom issue.
In their amicus brief siding with the St. Peter's HealthCare and Dignity Health, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops argued that while Catholic health care providers may not be officially part of a church or parish structure, their plans should meet the religious exemptions under ERISA.
"Indeed, charity has always been a core component of the Catholic Church's activities, 'as essential to her as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel'," the USCCB said, quoting Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical "Deus Caritas Est."
This charity is lived out "through myriad Catholic ministries" like health care providers, they added, which should be treated as part of the Church.
And these charities may or may not be directly affiliated with Catholic dioceses and parishes or with the Holy See, they continued, "yet, as a matter of Catholic theology, the various ministries that the Church recognizes as Catholic ministries are all part of the Church" even though "they may be (and often are) civilly, structurally, and financially independent entities."
These employers must be given a religious exemption, the bishops' conference added, saying that "long before" the ERISA regulations were enacted for pension plans, "Catholic charitable organizations provided their workers with generous benefits."
"In recognition of that reality (which is not unique to the Catholic Church), and to avoid imposing potentially crushing new obligations on such organizations, Congress has long exempted the benefit plans of church-affiliated organizations from the sometimes burdensome requirements of ERISA," they continued.
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And the Court must recognize this, they concluded, or this could bring about more problems in determining which religious groups are treated as part of a church.