WASHINGTON—The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) filed a noticeof appeal April 17, asking a federal appeals court to vacate a decision by a Massachusettsfederal judge declaring that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services(HHS) violated the First Amendment in its contract with USCCB to provide casemanagement services to victims of human trafficking, because the contract didnot require USCCB to facilitate abortion and contraception.USCCB has also requested a stay of the lowercourt’s decision until the appeals court can rule.
Thedecision came in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)against HHS in 2009. USCCB joined the lawsuit in mid-2010 on the side of HHS asa defendant-intervenor.
Forfive years ending last fall, MRS had successfully implemented a nationalgovernment contract that helped men, women and children recover from theeffects of human trafficking as victims of forced labor and the sex trade. Neither the statute authorizing the governmentfunds, nor the request for contract proposals from potential providers likeUSCCB, required the provider to faciliate abortion or contraception funding;and no trafficking victim complained for lack of government funding of thesethings under the contract.
Archbishop-electWilliam E. Lori of Baltimore, chair of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee onReligious Liberty, and Archbishop Josė Gomez of Los Angeles, chair of theBishops’ Committee on Migration, noted the rationale for the appeal in an April17 statement.
“TheConference has decided, with a great sense of urgency, to appeal the districtcourt decision in ACLU v. Sebelius for two reasons:it is poorly reasoned, and it is dangerous.
“First,the decision takes restrictive Supreme Court precedents and stretches them,almost beyond recognition, to encompass the facts of our case; and at the sametime, the decision all but ignores generous Supreme Court precedents that aresquarely on point.Justice William O.Douglas famously noted long ago that when the government acts to accommodatereligion, ‘it follows the best of our traditions.’This decision says and does the opposite.
“Second,if this precedent is allowed to stand—or worse, to find broader application—itwould have a devastating practical impact.Immediately, it endangers the ability of our Migration and RefugeeServices (MRS) to continue to provide, in cooperation with HHS or otheragencies of the federal government, exemplary service to victims of humantrafficking and others in great need.But if the rationale of this decision spreads, dozens of Catholicorganizations across the country that cooperate on similar terms withgovernment agencies at all levels—federal, state, and local—will have theirwork similarly threatened.
“Indeed,all faith-based service providers are threatened, because the court’s novelrule severely restricts the ability of government to accommodate anycontractor’s religious commitments, Catholic or otherwise.The people most in need of human services—thepoor, the sick, the marginalized—would suffer the most from such a broad exclusionof faith-based providers from cooperation with government.
“Weask for the prayers of the faithful in support of this ongoing effort to defendour first freedom, religious liberty.”
Most Rev. William LoriArchbishop-elect of BaltimoreChairman, Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty
Most Rev. José GomezArchbishop of Los AngelesChairman, Committee on Migration
Keywords: Health and Human Services, HHS, trafficking, U.S.Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, abortion, contraception, American CivilLiberties Union, ACLU, Archbishop-elect William E. Lori, Archbishop Josė Gomez,Committee on Migration, Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, KathleenSebelius, Justice William O. Douglas
# # # # #MEDIA CONTACT ONLY:Sr. Mary Ann WalshO: 202-541-3200M: 301-325-7935Email
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