A federal judge in Boston yesterday ruled a federal contract with a Catholic charity to administer a program to aid people brought here as prostitutes violates the First Amendment because the charity ordered subcontractors not to refer victims for abortions or birth control.
The ruling comes in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Massachusetts. Although the government's contract with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has expired, US District Court Judge Richard Stearns said the issue is not moot because the conference had indicated a desire to re-apply for the job of administering benefits under a federal human-trafficking law - even though government lawyers argued future programs would "give strong preference to organizations that will make referrals for the full range of legally permissible obstetrical and gynecological services, including abortion and contraception."
Stearns wrote paying the conference a total of $16 million for services that were limited by its religious views:
Violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, 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.
In a footnote, he added:
This case is not about government forcing a religious institution to act contrary to its most fundamental beliefs. No one is arguing that the USCCB can be mandated by government to provide abortion or contraceptive services or be discriminated against for its refusal to do so. Rather, this case is 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).