FCDF Role: Lead Counsel

Case Start Date: November 19, 2019

Court:  Superior Court of the State of California – San Diego

Issue: Whether religious caretaking organizations can serve victims of sex trafficking consistent with their faith.

Case Snapshot:

Children of the Immaculate Heart (CIH) is a religious charity that helps women escape from sex trafficking. CIH has sued the State of California because the government refuses to issue CIH a license to open the Refuge, a residential treatment home for sex-trafficked teen girls. Licensing officials have made it clear that they find CIH’s Catholic identity “offensive” and that they disagree with the charity’s religious beliefs about sexual orientation and reproduction.

The lawsuit demands that the State’s Department of Social Services, which regulates California’s foster care system, answer for its ongoing religious discrimination.

Children of the Immaculate Heart (“CIH”) is a group of Catholic women dedicated to caring for trafficked women. Their holistic, one-on-one approach has helped over a dozen women recover their stolen dignity and find hope for the future.

Because of their success working with adult women, Children of the Immaculate Heart aspires to open the Refuge, a therapeutic group home for commercially sexually exploited minor girls. But after four years of government stonewalling and nearly $600,000 in sunk costs, the Refuge sits empty. That is because state bureaucrats have resolved to advance an anti-Catholic agenda rather than rescue young girls enslaved in sex trafficking.

The California Department of Social Services, which regulates California’s foster system, refuses to license the Refuge because of Children of the Immaculate Heart’s sincere religious beliefs about human sexuality. The Department is mandating that Children of the Immaculate Heart allow “transgender” males to live at the home, dispense gender-transition chemicals, and drive girls to get abortions.

The Department’s licensing officials have thus arbitrarily put Children of the Immaculate Heart to a choice: If it wants to open the Refuge, then it must pledge to support programs and activities that violate its religious beliefs about sexual orientation, contraception, and abortion.

The First Amendment prohibits the government from targeting and discriminating against an organization based solely on its sincere religious beliefs, and it prohibits government officials from punishing those who have the courage to abide by their conscience.

With the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund’s help, Children of the Immaculate Heart sued the California government in November 2019, seeking to vindicate its fundamental First Amendment rights. The case is moving forward.

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