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God Will Protect You From Sexual Temptation...Or Not

Brigitte Amiri,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
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June 27, 2011

God will protect you from sexual temptation. That’s what is being taught in Africa, with U.S. federal tax dollars, to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS. But that’s not all. In Africa, and other places, government dollars have provided millions of dollars to organizations to teach abstinence-only-until-marriage programs complete with explicitly Christian teachings.

This violation of the separation of church and state is disturbing, but what is more upsetting is the fact that these programs are funded in response to the global HIV/AIDS crisis. Rather than fund truly effective HIV/AIDS prevention programs, the federal government has funded religiously infused abstinence-only-until-marriage programs overseas that indoctrinate youth with Christianity.

We learned about these constitutional violations in the course of our investigation, which began in July 2009, when the Inspector General of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) released a report after auditing USAID’s faith-based grantees. The report came to startling conclusions about the misuse of government funds.

For example, the Inspector General noted several instances of biblical references in government-funded curricula, and USAID itself admitted that some of the abstinence-only-until-marriage programs it funds “reflect a religious perspective and include religiously infused materials and religious references.” One of the curricula includes an optional Biblical verse for “reflection or memorization,” the purpose of which is to show students that “God has a plan for sex and this plan will help you and protect you from harm.”

The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request to learn more about what was funded by our government. When we received no response to our request, we were forced to file a lawsuit asking a court to order the federal government to release the relevant documents. Over the course of the last year and a half, we’ve received and reviewed over 16,000 pages of documents that show that our government repeatedly violated the constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state, and wasted our tax dollars on ineffective and harmful abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

For example, one program tells instructors to use a Bible “as a focal point to indicate that these are prayerful reflection sessions and not simply discussions;” that program participants should follow in Jesus’ footsteps; and asks participants to recite Scripture. Another program includes optional Biblical stories and verses; for example, Corinthians 10:13, which says, in part, “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”

We recently met with USAID and asked them to stop funding religious abstinence-only-until-marriage programs overseas. They indicated that these programs are coming to a close later this year, and that they will instead focus on innovative strategies for combating HIV/AIDS.

Let’s hope this is true, because it is extremely disturbing that young people are learning biblical verses instead of information that could save their lives. Because these programs will continue for the next few months, we sent a letter to USAID last week asking that USAID demand that its grantees stop using religious references in government-funded programs. After our government has spent millions of dollars on these unconstitutional and dangerous programs over several years, it is too little and a little too late. But it would be a good start to what is hopefully a new era.

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