Written by Don Byrd

A federal court in California has rejected the ACLU’s argument that the government’s practice of issuing taxpayer grants to religious organizations to provide residential care for unaccompanied minors who cross the border into the United States violates the Establishment Clause.

“Grantees are subject to federal regulations that provide that they may not engage in inherently religious activities, such as worship, religious instruction, or proselytization,” the court noted. Here, the opinion concluded, there is no evidence that the religious organization grantees used government money for religious purpose.

Beyond that, the Court ruled that the grants do not have the effect of promoting or officially endorsing the religious beliefs of the organizations. Here is an excerpt from that section of the opinion:

The ACLU argues that the government violates the Establishment Clause when it goes beyond being neutral and “convey[s] or attempt[s] to convey a message that religion or a particular religious belief is favored or preferred. The ACLU asserts that the government, in entering into grant agreements with the Bishops Conference despite the Conference’s religious objections to abortion and contraception services, has effectively endorsed the Conference’s views.

If anything, the government acted in a manner that is in opposition to the Conference’s religious beliefs. The Conference has a moral and religious objection to abortion. In the UACP, the government took affirmative steps to transfer unaccompanied minors who wanted abortions to other UACP shelters that did not have objections to abortion and appears to have arranged for every such minor to have access to abortion services. A reasonable observer would not view the government’s taking affirmative steps to facilitate access to abortion as an endorsement of the Conference’s anti-abortion religious beliefs. Similarly, in the TVAP, the government told the Conference that the various religious provisions that the Conference had proposed to include in its subgrant agreements did not comply with government requirements and made the Conference remove them. A reasonable observer would not view the government’s requirement that the Conference remove religious requirements as an endorsement of the Conference’s religious beliefs.

The Court also held that the ACLU lacked taxpayer standing to challenge on Establishment Clause grounds the Bishops Conference’s refusal to make available abortion services to minors in its custody, resulting in the required transfer of minors seeking abortion to other facilities.

Via Religion Clause, you can read the opinion here.