For more than a year, the religious right has been in the throes of a systematic legal fit over federal and state programs that direct taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood, where women may or may not exercise their legal right to procure an abortion. Similarly, private employers and religious institutions have taken to state courts to dodge Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate, arguing that it goes against their beliefs to pay into an insurance policy that might end up covering birth control. Most recently, the Supreme Court gave Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University a chance to argue in a lower court that Obamacare amounts to “forced funding of abortion.” But up in Vermont, the inverse is happening: A Christian pro-life group is arguing that a federal agency’s loan denial amounts to “blatant religious discrimination.”
According to an investigative report in RH Reality Check, a Christian ministry called Care Net is appealing the U.S.D.A. for a public health facilities loan it was denied. Care Net is one of those pregnancy crisis centers that aims to intercept young, desperate women on their way to getting an abortion with misleading billboards and literature that promise “abortion alternatives.” The alternatives mostly include teaching women that they must remain pregnant so as not to incur God’s eternal wrath, graphic photos included. Care Net went so far as to offer baby clothes and furniture as rewards to expectant parents that took their Bible study classes. The loan was intended to expand its operations into an old church’s parsonage that needs renovation in order to meet current building codes. The USDA denied it on the grounds that it is not allowed to get into a complicated financial relationship with a project designed for “inherently religious activities, such as worship, religious instruction, or proselytization,” or where religious participation is not voluntary.
Care Net is appealing the decision on the basis that it violates the Fair Housing Act (the expanded facilities would have included a homeless shelter for pregnant women) and the group’s freedom of religion. Care Net board members promise that it no longer requires pregnant women to take a Bible study class in order to receive financial aid. A hearing is set to reconsider Care Net’s application.