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Judge: federal grants to USCCB for human-trafficking victims are unconstitutional

March 27, 2012

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Siding with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a federal judge has declared that grants made to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to assist human-trafficking victims are unconstitutional because the grants represent a government endorsement of Catholicism.

In 2005, the Department of Health and Human Services solicited grant applications to assist victims of human trafficking. In its application, the USCCB declared:

As we are a Catholic organization, we need to ensure that our victim services are not used to refer or fund activities that would be contrary to our moral convictions and religious beliefs … Specifically, subcontractors could not provide or refer for abortion services or contraceptive materials for our clients pursuant to this contract.

Between 2006 and 2011, the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services received $13.9 million in federal funds to assist human-trafficking victims, making clear to subcontractors that “funds shall not be used to provide referral for abortion services or contraceptive materials, pursuant to this contract.”

(In 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services declined to renew the grant to the USCCB. The Washington Post reported that the department’s leadership overruled its own staff members, who had wished to continue the grant.)

In 2009, the ACLU filed suit against the Department of Health and Human Services, arguing that federal officials “have violated and continue to violate the Establishment Clause ofthe First Amendment by permitting [the] USCCB to impose a religiously based restriction on the use of taxpayer funds.”

In his March 23 ruling, US District Court Judge Richard Stearns, whom President Bill Clinton appointed to the bench in 1993, declared that

the government defendants violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, insofar as they delegated authority to a religious organization to impose religiously based restrictions on the expenditure of taxpayer funds, and thereby impliedly endorsed the religious beliefs of the USCCB and the Catholic Church.


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Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Mar. 27, 2012 9:06 PM ET USA

    Randall's got the question right - why did the Bishops seek and use Federal Funds for this effort? Makes no sense regardless of the justification and decision they had & made. How could they not recognize use of Federal monies will offer an impression of a Political bend / agenda to their work here in the US? Well, I guess their eyes have been closed for a ;ong time to what is nowing coming to fruit in our country - this should be no surprise.

  • Posted by: shrink - Mar. 27, 2012 5:00 PM ET USA

    Suppose for the moment that the bishops win on the HHS birthcontrol ruling. Then the language of this ruling by judge Stearns would suggest that any monies given to Catholic medical facilities through ObamaCare (i.e., the healthcare dictatorship) will be contrary to law.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Mar. 27, 2012 1:52 PM ET USA

    Better yet, suggest that we Catholics begin to base our charity on the command of Christ, not on government grants nor on tax-exempt status. If we were to aid trafficking victims based solely on love of God, it would be up to God to give success to our efforts. "'Try me,' says the Lord."

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Mar. 27, 2012 12:31 PM ET USA

    The 22nd Amendment will be next on the chopping block. This is the way of 3rd-world banana republics. By the way, what business is it of the USCCB to apply for grants from any government? It would make more sense for them to lobby for lower federal and local taxes so Catholics could have greater resources to support outreach to victims of human trafficking and other works of mercy. No one ever asked me if I would rather pay more of my salary to the government than to God.

  • Posted by: bruno - Mar. 27, 2012 6:58 AM ET USA

    And, I imagine, in a couple of years, we'll have the Liberty Police, making sure that those who receive Medicare, Medicaid, and Welfare do not spend the money in a way reflective of their religious beliefs. Not even Orwell could be this Orwellian!