One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and one person’s awkward silence is another’s silent victory. In the Library auditorium at the United Nations, at an event requiring special passes beyond standard credentials, a panel of federal judges, experts on human trafficking, with more than 100 years combined experience sits…before an international audience…in total, stunned silence. To my right Teresa Collett, Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas, stands with a microphone in her hand and fire behind her eyes.
“Do you want to answer that?” asks Mr. Libran Cabactulan to his fellow panelists, breaking the tension. There is some nervous laughter before Mr. Cabactulan, Ambassador from the Philippines and the Chair of the 58th Commission on the Status of Women, pulls the his microphone closer.
I have to review this ruling more closely…but it does not stand to reason that the Catholic Church would be excluded from this area where they have served for so long.
“This area” is human trafficking, which in 2002 held 2.4 million victims in the clench of an international industry worth 32 billion dollars. Those are the last accurate numbers available because this business thrives on secrecy. The Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, estimates the current industry to be many times larger. The “ruling” in question comes from the United States District Court of Massachusetts in the case of ACLU Massachusetts v. Kathleen Sebelius.
Filed on March 23, 2012, the case concerns the Department of Health and Human Services contract with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to help aid victims of human trafficking in accordance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act passed in 2000.
Under this law government funds became available for use by anti-trafficking groups. The USCCB submitted a proposal for the one-year renewable contract, which included the following note:
as we are a Catholic organization, we need to ensure that our victim services are not used to refer or fund activities that would be contrary to our moral convictions and religious beliefs…. Specifically, subcontractors could not provide or refer for abortion services or contraceptive materials for our clients pursuant to this contract.
The USCCB was given the contract and subsequently entered into subcontracts with “over 100 service providers.” Further, all of the possible renewals of the contract with the USCCB were given by HHS and a six month “Task Order” extension was also given. That order expired in October of 2011. The lawsuit began in 2009, when the ACLU filed against HHS officials alleging they “have violated and continue to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by permitting [the] USCCB to impose a religiously based restriction on the use of taxpayer funds.”
I should here point out that by filing this lawsuit, the ACLU was in fact seeking to, as they say, “impose a religiously based restriction on…taxpayer funds.” The difference is that the preferences of the ACLU are not based on natural law, nor even on the classical liberalism which inspired the founding documents of the United States, but on the vacuous legal preferences of thoroughly post-modern lawyers and interns, absolutely convinced of their own abiding virtue and of the obvious vice of all those who dare to disagree with them. Humans are religiously inclined animals. “You’re gonna have to serve somebody,” as the singer said. Whether it is through organized religion or personal ideals, we all live religiously. The religion of self-congratulation is particularly problematic. The inventor of the gas chamber considered himself to be a humanitarian, as did Robespierre.
Sadly, the United States District Court of Massachusetts missed this point. Their ruling:
It is therefore ADJUDGED and DECLARED that the government defendants violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, insofar as they delegated authority to a religious organization to impose religiously based restrictions on the expenditure of taxpayer funds, and thereby impliedly endorsed the religious beliefs of the USCCB and the Catholic Church. The government defendants’ motion for summary judgment is DENIED. The USCCB’s motion to dismiss and motion for summary judgment are DENIED.
Instead of addressing the trial court’s remarkable theory of endorsement, the US Court of Appeals simply vacated the lower court opinion since the contract had been completed and the case was moot.
Back in the Library auditorium; when a member of the panel of judges praised the Obama Administration’s executive orders concerning human trafficking (insert executive overreach joke here), Prof. Collett was given the microphone, stood, thanked the panel for their work and said she found the District Court’s ruling “deeply troubling.” She asked for comment on the exclusion of the Church from this issue and the panel fell silent. That is when Ambassador Cabactulan said the ruling against the Catholic Church “does not stand to reason.”
The District Court’s ruling rejected the contributions of the Catholic Church in aiding victims of human trafficking. Despite the fact that the phrase ‘human trafficking’ wasn’t coined until 1990 and despite the fact that it wasn’t until the Bush Administration that the United States opened its Anti-Trafficking Department, the Court ruled that the Church wasn’t worthy to receive federal funds to support its anti-trafficking efforts which arguably go back to the time of Christ with the woman at the well.
What is more, the efforts of the Church are needed now even more than in 2012. Trafficking in a growing business, like a metastasized tumor. I sit here in a coffee shop in New York City on this cool March morning. Given the frequency of trafficking in this city and the admitted ignorance of the experts as to how big the industry really is; it is more likely than not that within a mile of me is a girl being held right now as a sex slave. How different this morning must look to her. I sit here hopeful for a day at the UN. She lies there fearful for a day of rape. From the victims who have escaped, we know daily routine. The girls wake up (if they even went to sleep) with a quota to be met by the end of the day. Ahead of them each morning are dozens of “clients.” These girls will be starved, hit, yelled at and forced to do indescribable acts to please the perverse desires of whoever walks into their room. The people who use this industry look no different than anyone else in the crowd. I could, with little to no effort, get up from this shop and go to this girl to purchase her body for an hour or two. I have that option. But she does not have the option to get up and come to this café to join me for a coffee and some conversation.
There are activists and legal experts working to find her, to heal her and give her a new life. The Catholic Church is among these groups and has the distinction of insisting on the dignity of women for over two millennia. But simply cutting the thorns off the weed will not be sufficient to kill it. Behind every horrific day in the life of a sex slave is the decision of many different people, usually men I am sorry to say, who decide that “Today, I am going to purchase sex.” Mr. Cabactulan, to his credit, insisted that there must be more focus on killing the demand for sex trafficking. At the panel held by the Special Rapporteur, a representative of the Sex Worker’s project insisted that “restrictive gender norms” and “masculine gender ideals” were to blame for causing sex trafficking. I asked her and the panel:
We’ve heard a lot about ‘masculine ideals’ and ‘restrictive gender norms’ today, but it seems to be that if the masculine ideal is to love and respect women and to never tolerate even the thought of using or abusing them, then you want that ‘gender norm’ to be as restrictive as possible.
At that same meeting, the Special Rapporteur, praised without being prompted the efforts of Pope Francis, who is “leading the way” in “organizing an interfaith effort to combat trafficking.” The Pope held a summit at the Vatican for religious leaders and groups who work to end trafficking. Further, the Church’s teachings on sexuality, especially its condemnation of pornography and masturbation, are the standards which if followed would dry up the demand for sex slaves. The connection between pornography and sex slavery is made brilliantly in the Witherspoon Institute’s The Social Cost of Pornography: A Collection of Papers. The culture of porn is the manure with the weed of sex trafficking grows. The Rapporteur was receptive to this point about porn, and following a question further encouraged the religious leaders in the room to join the Pope in the mission against sex- trafficking.
I am attending visiting the UN on behalf of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. The UN delegates always furrow their brows when they hear this. I can’t see why. Abortion is a massive scourge and direct advocacy is necessary. Also necessary is an attack upon the cultural milieu in which abortion exists. The Church has worked, and worked hard, on both fronts. Thanks to the comments of the Special Rapporteur, the question of Prof. Collett and the response of the CSW58 chair; the UN is being reminded of this.
(Prof. Teresa Collett provided a much needed review of the legal matters addressed here, and has my deepest gratitude.)