Secular Help for Trafficking Survivors

I've written in the past about the phenomenon of people who think that their religious beliefs excuse them from doing their job. The correct solution, of course, is to not accept a job whose duties you won't perform; but the religious privilege that pervades society often leads people to expect that their employer should accommodate them, rather than vice versa, and that they should be paid for work they refuse to do.


Usually, this happens in service positions: pharmacists who won't fill prescriptions for birth control, town clerks who refuse to certify same-sex marriage licenses (or, even more horrifyingly, Muslim doctors and nurses who refuse to bare their arms to wash their hands).

What makes this even worse is that, not only will these people not provide the service, they take up a spot that could have been filled by someone who will. Of course, that's very much the point: many religious groups would love nothing better than to have a world where technically legal services are completely unavailable. And it's not just on an individual level that religion pursues this strategy. When government money is made available to provide social services, religious organizations inevitably line up to try and displace secular groups by taking the money and then not offering the services that contract was supposed to provide.

That's why I was pleased to read this week that the U.S. government has dropped a Catholic bishops' group from a $19 million program to provide assistance to victims of human trafficking. The contract stated that the applicant was supposed to provide "the full range" of legally permissible obstetric and gynecological care - and contraception and abortion are still legal in the U.S. - but the church refused to offer either.

This is especially revolting because the contract was intended to provide aid and counseling to victims of human trafficking - modern-day slaves, women who were abducted or sold to brothels and forced to work as prostitutes. If they've become pregnant through rape, they have every justification to get an abortion if that's what they choose, but even now, the church wants to deny them the information and the means to control their own bodies. Fortunately, the grant has instead been given to three secular aid groups, which will provide all the help that trafficking survivors need and not just the kind of help that the Roman Catholic church thinks they should be allowed to have.

This story parallels the trend of Catholic adoption agencies closing down because the church would rather see children remain homeless than place them with same-sex couples, and secular groups stepping in to take up the slack. These are positive developments, not just because it means more people can be helped, but also because it helps erode religion's assumption of privilege and moral superiority. As it becomes more obvious that churches are constrained by their own prejudices from helping people in need, more people will stop turning to those churches for aid and start going to secular groups and charities that put a higher value on this life.

Image credit: Steve Rhodes, released under CC BY-ND 2.0 license

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