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Court tosses out lawsuit over funds for bishops.

A federal appeals court has tossed out a lawsuit over religious restrictions placed on a federally funded program for victims of human trafficking.

In January, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said ACLU of Massachusetts v. Sebelius is moot because the federal government discontinued the Roman Catholic bishops' control of the program in 2011.

Starting in 2006, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) gave the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' $2.5 million to $3.5 million each year to make grants to other organizations that provide services to trafficking victims. HHS officials were aware, the ACLU said, that the bishops prevented any of the grant money from being used for contraceptive or abortion services in keeping with church doctrines.

The ACLU sued over the issue, and a federal district court ruled that the arrangement violated church-state separation. U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns held that government officials went astray "insofar as they delegated authority to a religious organization to impose religiously based restrictions on the expenditure of taxpayer funds, and there impliedly endorsed the religious beliefs of the [bishops' conference] and the Catholic Church."

In a statement, the ACLU expressed mixed feelings about the appellate panel's action on the case.

"Although we would have preferred that the court confirm that the government violated the Constitution, the upshot of the ACLU's challenge is a victory for victims of human trafficking and for religious liberty," said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.

Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the ACLU last year. AU attorneys argued that taxpayers have the right to challenge a publicly funded program that is being run according to religious doctrine.

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Title Annotation:AROUND THE STATES
Publication:Church & State
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2013
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