In our last report, the question of whether the federal statutory protections of private employer retirement plans applied to para-church organizations was answered with a clear ruling that the para-church organization qualified under the statutory “religious exemption.” Within days, the same para-church organization, albeit in a different state and therefore a different federal court jurisdiction, qualified under yet another statutory “religious exemption.”

In Boydston v Mercy Hospital Ardmore, Inc., Opinion and Order (WD Okla., 2020), the Sisters of Mercy were yet again determined to qualify under the statutory “religious exemption” found in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (aka “Title VII”), 42 USC §§2000e et seq., and in the Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act (“OADA”), 25 OS §§1101, et seq. The “religious discrimination and retaliation” claim was dismissed when the Court granted summary judgment on that basis. This Court’s analysis of the religious nature of the Defendant, possibly because of a more detailed factual record due to discovery limited to the religious exemption facts, was more detailed than the 8th Circuit case reported herein in the last post. The Court considered governance documents like bylaws and constitution, declarations by the denominational authority that the Defendant and its religious sponsor were religious entities, and sectarian religious symbols displayed in the medical facility. The Court also concluded that scientific and medical services provided for profit did not necessarily indicate a lack of religious control or motivation. The Court considered the number of nuns serving as members of the board of directors.

The less para-church organizations, regardless of function, are visibly affiliated with their religious roots, the more likely the same result will not be reached. The religious heritage of the para-church organization should be preserved to maintain “religious exemption” immunities no matter that the organization also has a secular identity. A sham will be discovered and should not be attempted.

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