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SAN DIEGO (ChurchMilitant.com) - A San Diego Catholic charity sued the state of California on Wednesday, accusing officials of preventing them from opening a shelter for victims of sex trafficking.
Children of the Immaculate Heart (CIH) say they are being discriminated against for their religious beliefs and their religious liberties are being infringed upon.
Their rescue home for sexually exploited teen girls, known as the Refuge, has remained empty since 2017 because government officials disagree with the charity's Catholic beliefs about sexual orientation and abortion.
State licensing officials who don't agree with Catholic beliefs have been stonewalling the charity's ability to get their operating license.
Licensing officials have demanded that CIH certifies it will promote LGBTQ events, drive residents to get abortions and inject children with transgender hormone medications. CIH objects to cooperating in such activities, according to a statement issued by the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF), which is representing CIH.
Their attorneys filed the complaint on Tuesday aiming to force the state to rule on the license.
Filed against the California Department of Social Services, it notes: "Sex trafficking is the fastest-growing illegal enterprise in California" and that in "San Diego County alone, over 5,000 victims each year are forced into the commercial sex trade, generating an estimated $810 million annually for gangsters and pimps."
A recent joint study by Point Loma Nazarene University and the University of San Diego also points to the need for places of refuge for sex trafficking victims. It reported that 4,000–8,000 victims are involved in gang-related sex trafficking in San Diego every year, just one sliver of the whole picture.
Many of these victims are children, explains Executive Director Grace Williams:
Hundreds of teenage girls continue to be pimped out in our county every night, yet the State of California considers prohibiting Children of the Immaculate Heart's free exercise of religion and freedom of speech more important than helping these girls escape a living hell of being raped up to ten times a day.
Williams founded CIH in October of 2013 to serve survivors of sex trafficking through housing and rehabilitative programs under the motto "Restore All Things in Christ." CIH's Catholic mission drives them to care for each victim regardless of her race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Refuge — which is in a secret location — is a state-of-the-art facility, equipped to provide short-term housing as well as individual and group therapeutic programs for up to six girls aged 12-17 in a safe, family home environment. Equine therapy and music therapy are used to inspire behavior modification that helps with building good relationships and healthy boundaries.
Senior counsel Paul Jonna made clear:
[T]he Refuge's ongoing vacancy is not simply the result of plodding bureaucratic paper pushing. As alleged in this Complaint, the Department's licensing officials have arbitrarily put CIH 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.
Jonna added, "The government is imposing a penalty on CIH's religious exercise that must withstand the strictest scrutiny."
Currently CIH maintains a housing and rehabilitation program for adult women who are survivors of trafficking and have children.
Sex-#Trafficking survivor Courtney Litvak became a target at her suburban high school in Katy, Texas.— The Epoch Times (@EpochTimes) November 21, 2019
It’s rare that a stranger will snatch a victim off the street. Usually, it’s a long, methodical "grooming" process.
Article by @charlottecuthbo https://t.co/1x07s5KPN6
According to the CIH website, their homes are places where those being served "can receive safety, case management, therapy, job training and education," adding that CIH's hope is that those being served live "in not only physical freedom, but that they will encounter the love of Jesus Christ and discover the true freedom of the sons and daughters of God."
CIH sees human trafficking arising from "widespread cultural objectification of women, the breakdown of the family, sexual activity outside of marriage, pornography, abortion, and contraception."