US Church-State Lawsuit Seen as Meritless

Bishop Defends Catholic Aid to Trafficking Victims

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WASHINGTON, D.C., JAN. 15, 2009 ( A U.S. bishop is calling meritless a lawsuit that protests money allotted to a bishops’ committee by the U.S. government for services to victims of human trafficking.

Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the bishops’ Committee for Migration and Refugee Services, pointed out the failed logic in an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), filed Monday.

The HHS awarded an anti-human trafficking contract to the bishops’ committee. The ACLU is protesting that the contract is a violation of Church and state because it does not fund abortion and contraception as part of its services for trafficking victims.

Bishop Wester expressed his hope that the «U.S. Department of Justice will mount a vigorous defense against such a meritless lawsuit, particularly one that threatens such harm to the weakest in our society, and to religious liberty.»

True service

The prelate noted that the Church’s network of social services in the United States is «second to none.»

«HHS recognized this when it chose MRS [Migration and Refugee Services] to implement efforts to address the evil of human trafficking,» he said. «MRS has efficiently provided top-quality human services, in cooperation with numerous faith-based and non faith-based agencies. More than 1,100 clients were served between April 2006 and December 30, 2008.»

The services that trafficking victims «desperately need» and that the bishops’ committee helps to provide include «food, shelter, legal services, coordination with law enforcement, medical screening, mental health care, safety planning, child care, employment assistance, and access to benefits upon eligibility such as refugee public benefits,» Bishop Wester noted.

He added: «These services uphold human dignity and the Church is eager to help provide them.

«The ‘services’ that ACLU would force taxpayers to fund would assault, rather than advance, the dignity of these neediest people in our society. It does not help trafficking victims to disqualify the Church from working with HHS simply because the Church will not provide abortion and contraceptive services.

«It also violates the longstanding principle of religious liberty to disqualify MRS or any other religious provider of social services from working with the government based on the provider’s religious beliefs.»

Already solved

Bishop Wester explained that the Supreme Court has already rejected the ACLU’s claims in a 1980 decision, which «noted clearly that a law or policy does not violate ‘the Establishment Clause because it «happens to coincide or harmonize with the tenets of some or all religions.»‘»

«The funding limitation at work in this program,» the prelate concluded, «is simply one more expression of a common-sense public policy that has been enshrined in federal law for decades — through Democratic and Republican Congresses and presidential administrations alike.»

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