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Judge Orders Changes in Abstinence Program; Louisiana Group Found to Be Promoting Religion

July 26, 2002

U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. ruled Thursday that Louisiana illegally used federal money to promote religion in its abstinence-only sex education programs, a decision that could jeopardize President Bush's ambitions for expanding the effort nationwide. Porteous ordered the state to stop giving money to individuals or organizations that "convey religious messages or otherwise advance religion" with tax dollars. He said there was ample evidence that many of the groups participating in the Governor's Program on Abstinence (GPA) were "furthering religious objectives."

Using government money to distribute Bibles, stage prayer rallies outside clinics that provide abortions and perform skits with characters that preach Christianity violate the Constitution's separation of church and state, Porteous ruled. GPA head Dan Richey testified last month that the state had stopped subsidizing religious activities, but Porteous replied, "The Court does, however, feel the need to install legal safeguards to ensure the GPA does not fund 'pervasively sectarian' institutions in the future."

Catherine Weiss, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project, and James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, which lobbies for broad-based sex education, said the misuse of abstinence money went beyond Louisiana. They called on policymakers to audit abstinence programs, similar to the current federal investigation of other sex education and HIV prevention programs.

Gov. Mike Foster (R) expressed dismay over the decision and said he would review the state's legal options. Bill Pierce, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, said the administration "remains deeply committed" to both abstinence-only programs and faith-based initiatives.

The suit, filed in May by the ACLU, was the first legal challenge to abstinence-only programs created under the 1996 welfare reform legislation. Bush has asked Congress to extend the $50 million-a-year program and increase other federal abstinence grants from $40 million this year to $73 million next year. Cities, states or organizations that receive the federal grants must use the money to teach abstinence as the only reliable way to prevent pregnancy and STDs. Grant recipients may not discuss contraception except in the context of condom failure rates.

Back to other CDC news for July 26, 2002

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Adapted from:
Washington Post
07.26.02; Ceci Connolly

This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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