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Author of Trafficking Law Applauds Bishops' Appeal of ACLU Attack on Religious Freedom

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), author of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its subsequent reauthorizations of 2003 and 2005 which provide funding to serve foreign victims of human trafficking in the United States, applauds the decision by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to appeal a recent ruling by the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts that discriminates against religious organizations in the fight against human trafficking.

"The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been a dedicated, compassionate, and an extremely effective partner in the efforts to alleviate the suffering of thousands of trafficking victims found in the United States," said Smith. "The trafficking laws I wrote were intended to provide services to victims by the objectively best qualified organizations. Tragically, the U.S. District Court ruling--like the Obama policy announced last year--unlawfully disqualifies the best qualified organizations because they refuse to refer women and unborn children to abortionists.

"This ruling is an egregious attack on religious freedom and conscience and does a tragic disservice to trafficking victims," Smith said of the court's ruling. "The USCCB wasn't chosen for its religion and should not be excluded for it either.

"In lock step with the ACLU's extreme agenda, the Obama Administration refused to renew the grant at the center of this suit to the USCCB last fall. In what can only be described as an unconscionable abuse of power, the Obama Administration has engaged in what amounts to bid rigging; denying taxpayer funds to a demonstrably superior organization--the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops--with an exemplary 10-year track record of performance that scored significantly higher in independent HHS reviews than two of the three NGOs that got the grant," said Smith, the prime author of the law that established the grants.

According to Smith, HHS reviewers gave the USCCB a score of 89, compared to 74 for Tapestri and 69 for the U.S. Committee on Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). Still, the latter two got the contracts and the USCCB did not.

Between 2006 and 2011, the USCCB received a total of $16 million in funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and subcontracted with a network of providers across the country in order to ensure trafficking victims would have food, clothing, shelter, and medical care wherever they were found across the United States. HHS reviewed USCCB's administration of the grant and renewed it four times based on USCCB's strong performance.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought suit against USCCB in 2009, alleging that USCCB's pro-life policies violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The court held that HHS violated the Establishment Clause by allowing the USCCB to decide whether or not to provide contraceptive and abortion referrals and funding, which then made the decision consistent with its religious beliefs. In an outrageous decision, the court found in favor of the ACLU.

Notably, the ACLU was not able to find a single one of the 3,000 trafficking victims assisted by USCCB who would be willing to be the plaintiff in the lawsuit. As a result, the ACLU had to fall back on taxpayer standing in order to litigate.

Smith is Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights, Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Chairman of the U.S. Congressional-Executive China Commission. He has been the Co-chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-life Caucus since 1982.

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