By Daniel Mach, Director, ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, and Brigitte Amiri, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
Last week, a federal district court in Massachusetts ruled that an ACLU challenge to the government's use of taxpayer dollars to impose religious doctrine on victims of human trafficking may go forward. The decision is a victory for women's health and for the basic constitutional principle that federal dollars cannot be used to favor one religious perspective over all others.
Since April 2006, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) millions of dollars to make grants to organizations that provide direct services to trafficking victims. HHS did this knowing that USCCB prohibits, based on its religious beliefs, grantees from using any of the federal funds to provide or refer for contraceptive or abortion services. We brought a lawsuit on behalf of the members of the ACLU of Massachusetts who object to their tax dollars being used for religious purposes.
Shortly after we sued, the government asked that the court dismiss the case. The government argued that taxpayers couldn't bring the lawsuit. They argued that only, for example, a trafficking victim could raise an objection.