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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit against the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to obtain public documents detailing its overseas abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which a recent Inspector General's report says unconstitutionally promote religiously infused materials and messages.
"The United States government cannot be in the business of exporting religiously infused abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that we know fail to give young people the information they need to stay healthy," said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "It is essential that the government provide all of the information it has about these programs so that the public has a full accounting of how taxpayer dollars are being spent."
The federal lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York after USAID failed to timely respond to ACLU Freedom of Information Act requests submitted in July and September 2009 for the documents, as mandated by law. The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the agency to make the requested documents publicly available.
The ACLU is demanding from USAID materials related to its abstinence-only-until-marriage programs funded through HIV/AIDS grants, including requests for proposals, contracts with USAID, curricula used by grantees, communications between USAID and the White House and communications between USAID and its grantees about religious instruction in abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula.
"In the face of a growing global HIV/AIDS crisis, USAID is not only violating basic constitutional principles by promoting government-funded religious activities, it is unconscionably putting young people's health and lives at risk," said Rose Saxe, staff attorney with the ACLU AIDS Project.
USAID's Office of the Inspector General released a report last year revealing that USAID has a history of unconstitutionally funding religious activities in its health and social service programs. In addition, while USAID has sought guidance from the Department of Justice about this issue, it is not clear that the Obama administration has responded adequately to these requests or has monitored the agency's activities to ensure that taxpayer dollars do not continue to be misused.
"The Obama administration has promised transparency as well as government-sponsored programs that are based on science, not ideology," said Daniel Mach, Director of Litigation for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. "USAID's failure to release the documents and its blatant misuse of taxpayer dollars to export religious programming in abstinence-only-until-marriage programs fails on both counts and cannot continue."
Lawyers on the case, ACLUF v. USAID, include Amiri, Mach, Saxe, Heather L. Weaver of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief and Galen Sherwin of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
A copy of today's lawsuit is available online at: www.aclu.org/hiv-aids-religion-belief-reproductive-freedom/acluf-v-usaid-complaint
The USAID Inspector General's report is available online at: www.usaid.gov/oig/public/fy09rpts/9-000-09-009-p.pdf