The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has added another item to their list of grievances with the Obama administration. The group recently lost millions of federal dollars for their relief program for victims of human trafficking because they refused to refer victims for contraceptives or abortion. Three other groups were awarded the grants instead.
The Washington Post reports:
The American Civil Liberties Union sued, and [Health and Human Services] officials said they made a policy decision to award the grants to agencies that would refer women for those services.
The bishops conference is threatening legal action and accusing the administration of anti-Catholic bias, which HHS officials deny.
The fight further sours an already difficult relationship between the government and some Catholics over several issues. The bishops fiercely oppose the administration’s decision in February to no longer defend the federal law barring the recognition of same-sex marriage. Dozens of Catholic groups also have objected in recent weeks to a proposed HHS mandate — issued under the health-care law — that would require private insurers to provide women with contraceptives without charge.
Last week, a Catholic political action committee released an ad asking President Obama to “meet with Catholic leaders to discuss compromise” on religious conscience laws. The ad accused the president of not seeking “common ground” with religious groups.
Catholic groups have asked to be exempt from federal mandates non-religious groups have to follow, particularly when it comes to birth control and abortion services. They are only asked to these follow mandates when they receive taxpayer funding.
For years, powerful groups such as the Conference of Bishops have won their fights for exclusion — but lately the feds are reconsidering some programs.
The Post reports that the Bishops feel they are being discriminated against for their religious beliefs, but “HHS officials denied any bias and pointed out that Catholic groups have received at least $800 million in HHS funding to provide social services since the mid-1990s, including $348 million to the bishops conference”:
One of those grants, $19 million to aid foreign refugees in America, was awarded to the bishops three days after the anti-trafficking contract expired Oct. 10.
“There wasn’t an intention to go out and target anybody,’’ said George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary for HHS’s Administration for Children and Families. “Nobody has ownership of a contract.’’ He added that the agency “followed standard procedure.”
The Bishops have released papers in the past few months accusing the federal government of exhibiting antagonism toward religion and displaying a “distorted view of sexuality,” as well as claiming that Health and Human Services’ birth control mandate violates the First Amendment.