December 4, 2012 — A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reexamine its rejection of a Vermont crisis pregnancy center's loan application because of the group's religious nature, the American Independent reports.
Two years ago, the Care Net Pregnancy Center of Windham County, Vt., requested a loan from USDA's Community Facilities Direct and Guaranteed Loans program, which provides loans for "essential community facilities" in small towns and rural areas. The center, which is part of the national CPC chain Care Net, opposes abortion and offers no-cost pregnancy tests, parenting classes and counseling.
At the advice of its legal department, USDA denied the loan because of the organization's "inherently religious" programs and the potential that a relationship with Care Net would lead to "excessive government entanglement with religion."
In particular, USDA objected to the center's plans to host Bible study and other religious classes at the facility it wanted to purchase with the loan. The department also took issue with the center's Learn to Earn program, which rewarded parents with baby clothes and furniture if they took parenting and Bible study classes.
The center filed a lawsuit alleging that USDA's decision violates its rights to equal protection and free speech. The suit also alleges violations on the Fair Housing Act because the center wanted to house an emergency shelter at the building.
In October, a federal judge told the USDA Appeals Division it must consider Care Net's arguments in reassessing whether the organization should receive a loan (Resnick, American Independent, 11/30).