Judge Rules Against Faith-Based Groups

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Religiously based restrictions on reproductive health services for victims of human trafficking cannot be imposed by the Department of Health and Human Services, a federal judge has ruled.
By delegating to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops the decision on which services to offer or not offer to trafficking victims, HHS violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, Judge Richard G. Stearns ruled March 23 in the case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in federal court in Massachusetts.
A USCCB spokeswoman called the ruling a disappointment.
“The decision seems to ignore the right of free expression of one’s religious beliefs,” said Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh, USCCB director of media relations.
“It’s very likely that we would appeal,” she said, adding that the conference’s general counsel continued to review the ruling.
Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, welcomed Stearns’ decision.
“We all have the right to our own religious beliefs, but under the Constitution an organization can’t use federal funds to impose those beliefs on others,” Dalven said.
The government was wrong to authorize the USCCB to deliver only those services it deemed appropriate under Catholic teaching, she added.
“In this case, the court said that an organization administering a taxpayer-funded program to help human trafficking victims can’t deny this vulnerable population critical health services based on the organization’s religious beliefs,” Dalven said.