Federal judge rules as unconstitutional Catholic pro-life provisions in Trafficking Victims Prevention Act

From CNA:

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.


Read the rest there.

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  1. disco says:

    I confess to know very little about human trafficking but I do have to wonder exactly what percentage of these victims would “need” contraception and abortion referrals. I would think that even apart from the debate over abortions, the overall effectiveness of the program should be the criteria by which it is judged. The bishops program helped at the cost of about $7,000 per person served. Is that good? Seems reasonable by government standards, anyway.

    If the government shouldn’t hire a religious organization to achieve a humanitarian goal, then how far are we from the point where a religious individual would be banned from ever having a government job? Perhaps the first step would be to adopt a don’t ask don’t tell policy for us?

  2. Philangelus says:

    Is the ACLU in effect saying they would prefer women and children to be sold like cattle rather than delivered from virtual slavery and have to buy their own contraception?

    We all know, of course, that the human traffickers provide excellent preventative health care services for their human cargo. **eyeroll**

  3. digdigby says:

    Planned Parenthood is a valuable resource for the human trafficking pimp especially one who specializes in underage girls (as we learned in last year’s sting). Don’t want anyone hurting the baby killing business by ‘denying women reproductive freedom’. The other thought I had was do you think any of these victims DON’T know about birth control and abortion? No, our new masters demand COMPLICITY and enthusiasm. Even ‘tolerance’ isn’t enough for the Culture of Death’s activists.

  4. Andrew says:

    I am not a lawyer but here’s my line of thinking: there are two opposing viewpoints at play here: that of the “no abortion” camp, and that of the “yes abortion” camp. The judge is of the opinion that the “yes abortion” ideology must prevail simply because the government provided some money. But that money came from the people. It is not “provided” by the government. It was merely “passed on”. It does not give the government the right to impose its ideology on a religious group. The rule for religious exemption is governed by democratic principles and constitutional law. The fact that the government “provided” some grants has nothing to do with this.

    This is going to be coming up more and more, namely, ideologues of all stripes will be claiming priority in the marketplace of opinions simply because they handle the people’s wallet. So not only do they want to engage in social engineering by transferring the nation’s wealth as they please, but they also want to claim a right to impose their ideologies on everyone on account of their access to the nation’s wealth. This is communism all over again.

  5. Phil_NL says:

    I get the impression that abortion is actually a means here, not an end.

    It’s the means to ensure the Catholic Church doesn’t get any money from the state whatsoever, even for good, social work. The end is that the state has to take over doing those jobs, increasing the influence of the state, and thereby those who make political decisions.

    Slightly off-topic, but continuing on the idea: in a nutshell, the aim is simply to centralize power. Probably not even because the judge and Dems are often crypto-communists (there are a few among them, but really, only a minority cares much about ideology) but simply becasue they feel power is better left in their hands. It’s a common fallacy among the moderately smart: they notice that they would make better decisions than a lot of people, but aren’t smart enough to see the dangers inherent in that, such as loss of liberty or the possibility others are in fact smarter than them and those ‘other decisions’ would in fact be better ones.

    Of course, that type of reasoning leads to coalitions of convenience with those who are truely ideological lefties, aspiring dictators, or just plain diabolical types who revel in abortion and eugenics (PP’s heritage). Put them all together, add those who are wooed by patronage, government handouts and/or ethnic loyalties, and you have a group that very closely resembles the Democratic party in the US, and most left-of-centre parties in Europe as well.

  6. Alice says:

    Since one of the “uses” for the victims of human trafficking is working in brothels (usually illegal brothels), I would not be surprised if the “need” for abortion and contraceptive services comes up fairly often.

  7. Titus says:

    I really do wish that reporters would put docket numbers, or at least case names, in articles they write about lawsuits. It’s never easy to tell from a news article what the actual basis for a legal decision was.

    Fortunately, CNA did provide the judge’s name, which makes a search feasible. The case in question is ACLU of Massachusetts v. Sebelius, No. 09–10038–RGS, (D. Mass.). The opinion in question was issued on March 23, 2012, and can be accessed, if you have Westlaw, at 2012 WL 987995.

    As for the merits of the opinion, the decision is somewhat bizarre, even in light of the briar patch that is establishment-clause jurisprudence. None of the authorities on which Judge Stearns relies involved a contractual relationship between the government and a religious organization. Nor did the court suggest that a) HHS could not have imposed the same limitations on the expenditure of funds as the USCCB did or b) that the USCCB would have been prohibited from allocating federal grant funds either altogether or according to unstated criteria. But the establishment finding is senseless without (a), and the reasoning the court applies would necessitate (b). Just to put the icing on the cake, Stearns’ view of the relationship between the Declaratory Judgments Act and the mootness doctrine, see id. at *5, leaves much to be desired.

    The USCCB needs to find itself some new attorneys for the appeal.

  8. LisaP. says:

    No new opinion from me — the Church in America has got to stop taking federal money. It is a contradiction and a problem when federal tax money gets delegated to any group because every group has an ideology. By funding the group, the government is in the position of taking a tiny step towards establishing a state religion (by funding the work of one) and by selecting against a group it is doing the same (by expressly not funding the work of one religion as against another). In this world, ideologies like communism or atheism or secular humanism certainly would count as quasi-religions that the state could be accused of establishing as a state religion. The federal government needs to cut its involvment in those areas where this is a hazard, but in lieu of a return to Constitutional principles by the feds the Church needs to begin to disentangle itself from this centralized bureaucracy.

    I recently watched a documentary where a Protestant pastor was instructing a group and one stood up and said, “If I do what you are saying, which I know is the right thing to do, then my church will kill me>” And the pastor tells him, “Then die.”

    We’ve got a nonCatholic church out here the size of your thumbnail, it gives abundant food to 500 families each month (up from 200 a year or so ago). They have no wealthy patrons and no government funds. When food runs low, which is does most of the time, the man who runs the place doesn’t make phone calls. He goes home and prays and fasts. They’ve never run out yet. If the Church leaned on God and removed the crutch of government funds, I have no doubt much of the large charitable Catholic infrastructure would collapse. But I would rather see Catholics run small food banks like this one than take $7000 per head (frankly, that struck me as just further human trafficking) to council through a large system. I would rather see small hospitals and clinics giving good care than large Catholic hospitals that push sterilization and treat patients with the same dignity county hospitals often do. I would rather see more higher learning like OLSWA and Wyoming Catholic College — some days I think it would be best if Notre Dame and Loyola closed their doors forever.

  9. TomG says:

    Splendid comment, LisaP. Thank you.

  10. Mrs. O says:

    If the appeal is not successful, then as a Catholic taxpayers, I would like to know why I can’t support those in my Church who provide services with my own tax money without them being so strangled with rules against their conscience, they can not operate. We are not talking about someone else’s money – that is OUR money including Catholics. I will happily stop giving directly to the govt and start on a local level if I could.
    Secondly, how does offering contraceptives HELP those victims? This should be the argument – common good. Contraceptives are NOT common goods and you should not force people to provide or recommend their services. Period.

  11. dave821319 says:

    LisaP., you’re absolutely right.

    80 years ago, when the Church decided to make a deal with the devil and starte supporting socialism, wise people knew exactly what the end result would be. Amazingly, today, there are still priests, religious and bishops who don’t get it. There’s no such thing as taking “a little” government money in exchange for “a little” government regulation, because there’s no such thing as negotiating with tyrants.

  12. Centristian says:

    No good deed goes unpunished.

    “Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, praised the decision.”

    Fine. Send all the trafficking victims to her address. There you go, honey; they’re all yours. Have fun.

  13. Peggy R says:

    This is a question not just of whether Church entities should take public monies for its own social service goals. But also it is whether the Church should offer to provide services on behalf of the government under the government’s terms and conditions. Should the Church be precluded from providing government services because of its moral beliefs? Should the Church independently seek to help these trafficking victims with private funds it raises?

    This is not about the Church taking grants to run its own schools or parishes, which I think the Church should decline. That said, there are some state education laws related to transportation, building maintenance etc that impose costs on Catholic schools. The dioceses will often apply for grants available to meet the costs of these burdens. Some of these are tough calls.

    This order does not bode well for the right of the Church to compete for public funds to provide social services to the public.

  14. disco says:

    @alice I know that is what these unfortunates are used for, but it stands to reason that their handlers would want to prevent them from becoming pregnant and therefore would already have provided that “care”.

  15. digdigby says:

    I am beginning to agree with the argument here for the Catholic church to disentangle financially from the Federal Government. This is the ‘history lesson’ that convinced me. The Irish New York of ‘Gangs of New York’ and its squalor beyond imagining was transformed by the Catholic church in just ONE generation.

  16. catholicmidwest says:

    We have provided services under federal government contracts for years now, without considering the implications carefully enough in light of our mission in the world. However, there has been a practical benefit for both sides of the contract and this has been allowed, on our part, to overwhelm caution and sensibility about these things. Moreover, contracts have been a source of funding and they have provided us with the illusion, at least, of performing ever more works of mercy and outreach. The tough questions now need to be asked:
    1) Exactly how does accepting government contracts for services further our core goals as the Body of Christ, the Catholic Church? [What are our core goals?!? Do we agree on that? Why not?]
    2) What is the proper mixture of government contract work and sheer works of mercy done by members of the Church? How should this be decided? Exactly who do works of mercy benefit and exactly why? Why do we do them!? How does this inform our actions?
    3) How do we manage our relationships with the federal government-or any level of government, provided that we know that the general goals of government may be different than the goals of actors in government, which are demonstrably different than our goals?

  17. anilwang says:

    LisaP said “No new opinion from me — the Church in America has got to stop taking federal money. ”

    It might not make a difference. Look at home schooling. Home schooling parents don’t accept federal government, but that doesn’t stop the federal abuse. Boarding houses in the UK are being required to accept same sex “couples” as part by the “human rights” commission even though boarding houses don’t accept federal companies.

    In many countries, and in some states or provinces (e.g. look at Alberta and Quebec in Canada), home schoolers are required to take courses contrary to the Catholic faith. Also, parents are still required to pay for the public school system so parents have less money to survive on, rendering home schooling an option only for the more well off. And since the government takes in so much, there’s less money available for charities.

    Applying this to non-profits, non-profits and even charitable organizations that don’t qualify as non-profits still have to follow federal regulations that might go contrary to the faith. In some states, the “human rights commission” has mandated that it is illegal for orphanages to refuse to give children to same sex “couples”. In some states, legislation has been put forward for priests to be required to break the seal of confession in the event of sexual abuse, and any mention of homosexuality as being objectively disordered in sermons or homilies being labelled as hate speech. Further more, zoning laws and taxation have more than once been used to drive the faith out.

    The issue here really isn’t about accepting federal money. It’s more fundamental. It’s about subsidiarity. In every issue that concerns the common good, there are three options:
    (1) Let private institutions handle it and provide minimal supervision to ensure nothing too crazy goes on (e.g. orphanages don’t use children in a a sweat shop, and restaurants don’t use wild rats in sausages)
    (2) Tax everyone and create a common pool of money and minimal standardization and oversight so that all private institutions that actually do the work can benefit (e.g. school vouchers)
    (3) Tax everyone and place the government in charge. (e.g. the police)

    (1) works best when there really is no common standard or need within the population. (2) works best if there is a common need and economies of scale, but no common standard. (3) works best when everyone agrees on the standards and need and there are economies of scale.

    In this case, the problem is not that the institution accepts federal funds (e.g. case (2)). The problem is that the government is trying to run a (2) issue as if it were a (3) issue. That’s an abuse of power and a violation of religious freedom, and it is only a matter of time before people who do not comply with the government’s mandate will be forced to, even if they opt out of the money of (2).

    A line has to be drawn in the sand. Either it is a (2) issue and the government has to mind its own business, or the government has to get out of this area this area and let private institutions run the show, option (1).

  18. catholicmidwest says:

    You sometimes hear, in the same vein, that we should have vouchers for Catholic school tuition. Absolutely NOT. It’s none of the government’s business what we teach in our schools. None. They are a failure in theirs; we do not have to take up their slack on their terms. If people enter a Catholic school, they come on OUR terms. It’s a CATHOLIC school.

  19. LisaP. says:

    catholicmidwest, what I like best about your evaluation is the direction it moves from — what does the Church want to do and how does it do it, rather than what does X (federal government, America, whatever) need done and how can we fit into that picture.

  20. LisaP. says:


    I agree it would not solve every part of the problem, by far, to withdraw from federal funding. It would not solve a government trying to impose tyranny. But it would solve the part where the Church wonders to what degree it needs to cooperate with the tyranny. Any decision would be then based on factors other than self-interest. I think it’s worth getting that out of the way first.

    Home schooling is a great example (we home school), and I agree that government often feels it has the right to impose itself on home schooling families even though they don’t take funding. But I can disagree with the government under those conditions, and indeed do, and in fact fight any encroachment. But when I was a teacher, I could not fight the federal government imposing regulations on, say, the Chapter 1 reading program since the federal government was paying for it and there wasn’t a chance the school would turn down that funding. The school also wasn’t about to set up a second program locally funded. So in effect local decisions about how to address reading problems in elementary school no longer exist, and there is no fight about that. There’s a substantive difference.

    (As an aside, I know an awful lot of pretty impoverished home schooling families, but I do think that the drastically impoverished (e.g. unmarried moms in urban areas with massive cultural environment problems and huge costs of living) are de facto denied the ability to home school, and I wonder how that problem could be solved without setting up yet another enslaving federal “help” program.)
    I would prefer to look on subsidiarity differently — more in terms of if it *can* be done smaller and closer (even if that involves some loss of efficiency), then it *should* be done smaller and closer. I’d personally say that even common needs are best addressed at your number 1 level (although I understand you are not saying common needs require moving up, just permit it). I’d ben inclined, therefore, to take out or drastically minimize your #2. I don’t see much that recommends it, although I might have been a fan of the post office in pony express days and might be surprised to find totally privatized utilities start acting like the cable company! But even if you allow for a number of #2 enterprises, the example above seems unlikely to me to fall into this category. It’s certainly a common good to help our community’s victims of crime, but how any economic efficiency derived from scale could improve upon the local parish setting up a shelter and staffing it with caring volunteers? I don’t see it. I also frankly can’t see how the government could legitimately entirely mind its own business in the case of #2 endeavors, unless you want to grant the stereotypical examples of giving funds for orphanages equally to Catholics and to Satanists, funds for public health programs to Nazis as well as Shriners. But I may be missing something there that would allow the government to draw lines while preventing it from curtailing freedoms.

  21. catholicmidwest says:

    This is because, Lisa, if we start with what America needs done, and we fit ourselves into that picture, we become no more than an arm of the federal government with a funny name and some odd practices.

    Now there are some people who would like that, but it can’t be the goal of the Catholic church because it contradicts the Church in every single way that it possibly can. Perhaps people who don’t see this huge difficulty aren’t as Catholic as they are Federalist, devotees of government and its purported powers to make peoples’ lives utopian. They deserve our pity, but not our attention on the basis of their arguments. Their view is a naive, evacuated and bankrupt view of reality, worse than the pagans, who at least believe in something beyond paperwork and constant bureaucratic strife.

  22. DisturbedMary says:

    Obama wants the Church out of the public square. No examples of worthy work will crack his ideological crust while his ideology sacramentalizes abortion and homosexuality. If he is re-elected, it won’t be long before the Church is stripped of its hospitals and charities. Look at what happened to the Catholic Charities of Illinois adoption and foster care services recently “laicized”. It will shortly be reborn with “Catholic” gone from the name. But it will have the same employees, the same jobs, same buildings, same offices, probably the same desks….. In other words, the only change is the name and the addition of those other “services” the Church cannot allow. We all know what they are.

    Has this been a Thomas More moment for the employees? Anyone?

    We need to hear a lot more about the stubborn antagonism towards the Church before November — before we vote our future away.

  23. Cathy says:

    Prior to instituting the income tax, one could easily protest the government’s use of public funds through the decision not to purchase luxury items which were taxed for federal funds. With the introduction of the income tax we lost control of government spending. I am entirely certain that the government is not simply concerned with separating God from the government, but with separating the faithful from their wages. I don’t believe the government gives a hoot about the victims of human trafficking, it does care about separating these victims from the intercession of the Church.

  24. Peggy R says:


    Your questions were very good. (We Catholics in the midwest are very sensible, eh?) I share your opposition to Catholic schools participating in vouchers as it would have the effect of diminishing the Catholic identity and beliefs in Catholic schools. We should not participate in these programs under govt auspices if our Catholic mission to our own faithful and Catholic children is compromised.

  25. catholicmidwest says:

    Peggy R,
    Maybe it’s the cold weather here. Keeps things in perspective. ;)

  26. LisaP. says:

    Cathy, I agree, I remember reading Dorothy Day, she wrote that the only way for her to avoid funding a war she disagreed with was to be poor enough not to pay income tax.

    I don’t doubt that impoverishing conservatives and the religious of every ilk is part of the plan, removing their economic power as well as political and social. If that’s the case, though, it’s my personal belief they’ll get a rude surprise from that. Poverty, like cold weather, tends to straighten out your perspective. If ever the people of America begin to get a firm grasp on what is important, on what they need over what they simply think they want, it won’t matter which politicians are in office.

  27. bookworm says:

    “Poverty, like cold weather, tends to straighten out your perspective.”

    Maybe in the long term it does, but I personally was never MORE obsessed and preoccupied with money and distracted from serving God as I was when I was trying to scrape our family by on a job that paid barely above minimum wage. (Things have gotten much better since then.) Trying to juggle what bills you can pay and which ones you can let slide, how to manage an unexpected car repair, figuring out what you are going to say to the collection agency people, etc. takes up an awful lot of time and energy that could be better used elsewhere. Yes, I know that having a proper emergency fund helps alleviate a lot of these problems but then you have to devote a lot of time and energy to building up the emergency fund; plus, how can you really be “poor” if you have an emergency fund to fall back on?

    I guess I’m just saying that while I have never been officially “poor” in the sense of being below the federal poverty line, I have been close enough to it to get a little irritated with people who romanticize or idealize being poor and say it always brings you closer to God. In my case, it did just the opposite; but maybe that’s just my problem. Living a simple life (which I strive to do) is NOT the same as being forced into or kept in poverty.

  28. LisaP. says:


    Sorry to seem insensitive. We’re below the poverty line, have been for several years, and have some unique costs in our lives, but we have options and safety nets most Americans don’t have so our situation doesn’t have the uncertainty that is probably the worst part of true (rather than volunteered for) poverty. You definitely have to be rich to be able to afford making choices that risk poverty and I’m sorry if I seemed to demean anyone’s suffering. I do know many people who are low income that are very self-reliant, strong, God fearing and loving people, and I remember how much more fearful I was about life when we had more money (but never enough) and hadn’t learned that I can survive a collections call or going on food stamps or washing clothes by hand, and I imagine that colors my perception. But I entirely grant that painting with the broad brush I did was inappropriate, every individual’s experience is his or her own and it was wrong for me to generalize.

  29. heway says:

    I agree with all those who believe it is time for the church to stop taking federal $$ and let them try to get along without us. My boys went to a catholic school (not midwest) in the heat of Imperial Valley and on the Mexican border. On my way home (nurse) at midnight, I would cry all the way while I prayed to God to take care of the $$ problems.
    He did and also kept everyone healthy if not wealthy. We could do so much better as a church if we divested ourselves of this federal material world. Provide places for community food banks to open and distribute goods, open a St. Vincent De Paul in your church yard! Help the needy members of your community with money/goods. Be a true traditionalist -return to the practices of the early church!
    Btw, I may be wrong, but a few years back, a nurse Mormon friend sent her boys to BYU for $1000/year – because they were good 10% stewards. How I wish our church would also take care of our children in that way. St. Thomas More, give us the spiritual strength!

  30. bookworm says:

    Well, LisaP, I am probably overly sensitive about that topic myself. I’m sure you meant no offense or judgmentalism. It’s just that I, personally, have never found that lack of money improved my perspective on life or my relationship with God. I’m always far more focused on material things and money when I DON’T have them, than when I do have them (not that I’ve ever had a lot of either).

    I personally would find poverty or living on a low income a lot more bearable if I just didn’t have so many obligations to others hanging over my head that had to be met. That includes debts of various kinds, utility and other bills, insurance coverage (home, car, life), medical bills (not so much right now but I had some big ones in the past), etc. I guess what I really hate most about being “almost” poor was the feeling of personal failure, and of not meeting my obligations to my family and others. If I were single and had no debts that would be one thing, but with a spouse and child dependent on me (who have NOT chosen to be poor and whom I have no right to choose that lifestyle for them against their will), that’s another story.

  31. LisaP. says:

    Debt is the great soul-killer, and while our income is lower our debt is also lower and that makes all the difference. I sincerely wish the Church would revisit its old admonitions about usury.

    Each and every person’s situation is different and there is nothing that automatically makes a poor person more moral than a rich person or vice versa. Poverty for poverty’s sake is not noble any more than wealth for the sake of wealth. My only point was that if the left wants to impoverish its enemies in order to break them, it may find that backfires — but I made the point far too broad in my first post.

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