Pro-life provisions in US bishops’ grant ruled unconstitutional
By Kevin J. Jones
Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2012 / 04:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A federal judge sparked criticism after he ruled unconstitutional the government’s accommodation of pro-life beliefs in an anti-human trafficking contract with the U.S. bishops.
“The bishops are disappointed and probably will appeal. This is another assault on the free exercise clause of the First Amendment,” Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. bishops’ conference, told CNA March 27.
The bishops’ contract proposal for a major five-year grant was approved in 2006 under the Trafficking Victims Prevention Act. The proposal contained language ensuring that its victim services are not used to “refer or fund activities that would be contrary to our moral convictions and religious beliefs.”
It stated that subcontractors could not provide or refer for abortion services or contraceptive materials for its clients.
On March 23 U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns said that the government violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment “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.”
The District of Massachusetts judge said the case is not about government forcing a religious institution to act contrary to its fundamental beliefs, but about “the limits of the government’s ability to delegate to a religious institution the right to use taxpayer money to impose its beliefs on others (who may or may not share them).”
The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Massachusetts had challenged the funding, which totaled $19 million and served over 2,700 trafficking victims.
Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, praised the decision.
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