Sunday, October 14, 2018

HHS Grants to Catholic Bishops Conference Upheld

In ACLU of Northern California v. Azar, (ND CA, Oct. 11, 2018), a California federal district court granted summary judgment to the government in the ACLU's Establishment Clause challenge to HHS's choice of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as a grantee under the Unaccompanied Alien Children Program  (UACP) and the Trafficking Victim Assistance Program (TVAP).  The ACLU focused particularly on the refusal of sub-grantees to directly refer clients for abortion or contraception services. However children in custody in UACP who sought an abortion were transferred to a secular provider that did not have objections, and to an independent medical provider when contraception services were sought. The Bishops' Conference ultimately removed language from its documents that would have prevented TVAP sub-grantees from providing abortion or contraception services. The court held in part:
The government’s grant relationship and interactions with the Bishops Conference in the record in this litigation are not sufficiently likely to be perceived as an endorsement of the Conference’s religious beliefs....
The record here shows that the government’s UACP and TVAP grant money was used to provide general secular care services to unaccompanied minors and that no government money was used for proselytization, religious education, religious facilities, religious items, religious literature, or other religious activity. There is no evidence that the ACLU, or any taxpayer, was forced to monetarily subsidize the Bishops Conference’s religious beliefs. To the extent that the Conference declined to provide unaccompanied minors with access to abortion or contraception services, it did not use any government tax money to do so, and thus its actions are not properly the subject of a taxpayer-standing suit.