BOSTON (CN) - The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services violated the separation of church and state by giving a multi-million grant to U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops based on the conference's "religious objections to contraception and abortion," says the ACLU in Federal Court. The outgoing administration compounded its abuse of the law by using money intended by Congress to help women exploited by human traffickers.
The grant prohibited all subgrantees from using the funds to "pay for contraceptive and abortion referrals and contraceptives," the ACLU claims in Federal Court. The money came from funds intended by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to be used to help victims of human trafficking, particularly women.
"It is estimated that more than 14,000 individuals, predominantly women, are trafficked into the United States each year. Human trafficking is an extreme form of labor exploitation where individuals are recruited or obtained and then forced to labor against their will through force, fraud, or coercion. Many trafficked women are physically or sexually abused by their traffickers or are forced to work in the sex trade. Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery," the complaint states.
"Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act ('TVPA') to combat human trafficking and expand benefits and services for those who are victims of severe forms of human trafficking. The federal government has recognized that its success in combating human trafficking domestically hinges on a victim-centered approach.
"Under the TVPA, the federal government provides an array of services to these individuals, including medical services, to help them become self-sufficient. The Defendants, pursuant to their authority under the TVPA to distribute funds for such services, have provided a multi-million dollar contract to a religious organization, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops ('USCCB'), to provide subgrants to organizations that directly serve trafficked individuals. In that contract, HHS permitted USCCB to impose its own religiously based substantive restrictions on the use of grant funds. Specifically, HHS permitted USCCB, based solely on USCCB's religious objections to contraception and abortion, to prohibit all subgrantees from using grant funds to pay for contraceptive and abortion referrals and contraceptives.
"By permitting USCCB to impose its religiously based restrictions on the types of services trafficked individuals can receive with taxpayer funds, the Defendants have violated the Establishment Clause.
"Plaintiff - whose members include taxpayers whose tax dollars finance the contract between the Defendants and USCCB - seeks, among other relief, an injunction ordering Defendants to ensure that the TVPA grant is implemented without the imposition of religiously based restrictions."
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