Monday, February 24, 2020

Supreme Court GVRs Puerto Rico Decision On Pension Liability of Catholic Church

Th U.S. Supreme Court today issued opinions granting certiorari, vacating the judgment of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court and remanding for further proceedings the case of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Juan v. Feliciano, (US Sup. Ct., Feb. 24, 2020). At issue was whether the Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church in Puerto Rico was liable for pension benefits of Catholic School employees in Puerto Rico.  The petition for certiorari argued that civil courts must respect the Church's own views on its internal structure. The Supreme Court in a per curiam opinion concluded, however, that it need not reach that issue because Puerto Rican courts lost jurisdiction over the case when it was removed to federal court and had not yet been remanded. Justice Alito, joined by Justice Thomas, wrote to note important issues that may arise on remand. They said in part:
[T]he Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment at a minimum demands that all jurisdictions use neutral rules in determining whether particular entities that are associated in some way with a religious body may be held responsible for debts incurred by other associated entities....
Beyond this lurk more difficult questions, including (1) the degree to which the First Amendment permits civil authorities to question a religious body’s own understanding of its structure and the relationship between associated entities and (2) whether, and if so to what degree, the First Amendment places limits on rules on civil liability that seriously threaten the right of Americans to the free exercise of religion as members of a religious body.