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ACLU sues government over contracts with religious aid agencies

TheU.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at its annual meeting in November 2014. Associated Press/Photo by Steve Ruark

ACLU sues government over contracts with religious aid agencies

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit April 6 against the Obama administration for documents regarding government funding contracts issued to faith-based refugee aid groups like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

The ACLU believes the documents will reveal faith-based relief organizations have not provided required abortion referrals for unaccompanied children entering the United States illegally. The ACLU claims these groups have denied adequate reproductive care for teens by refusing to provide contraceptives or abortion referrals. The majority of girls and women who cross the U.S. border are sexually assaulted, according to the ACLU.

“We believe deeply in religious freedom,” said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “But religious freedom does not include the right to take a government contract that requires providing access to health care, and then refuse to provide a teen who has been raped the health care she needs.”

The UCCB did not respond to several requests for comment for this story. But in the past, the agency has staunchly defended its right to maintain its beliefs while providing a valuable service to the government and the community.

USCCB is one of the largest refugee relief agencies in the United States. About 93 percent of its $71 million budget for Migration and Refugee Services is funded by federal grants and contracts, Breitbart reported. The ACLU claims USCCB has violated its contracts with the federal government by refusing to provide contraceptives or abortion referrals. “Because of USCCB’s refusals, teens are not getting the care they need,” the ACLU said in a press release.

In February, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement issued new rules that require faith-based refugee organizations to provide abortion referrals for unaccompanied minors.

The requirement violates USCCB’s and other organizations’ conscience rights, Susan Yoshihara, senior vice president at the Center for Family and Human Rights, said earlier this year. Six of the nine U.S. resettlement agencies are faith-based. And USCCB, World Vision, National Association of Evangelicals, World Relief, and Catholic Relief Services filed a joint letter protesting the rules. They affirmed their commitment to providing aid and adhering to their moral standards. And they requested the administration allow exceptions for faith-based organizations under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The rules are set to take effect June 24.

These conscience rights violations aren’t new for the Obama administration, Yoshihara said. “You’d think that you’d take the time to be careful, especially when it involves faith-based groups,” she said. “This is just the last round being fired at faith-based groups.”

Courtney Crandell Courtney is a former WORLD correspondent.

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