ACLU Asks Court to Hold Louisiana's Abstinence-Only Program in Contempt, Citing Numerous Violations of 2002 Order

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
January 20, 2005 12:00 am

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NEW ORLEANS – The American Civil Liberties Union today asked a U.S. District Court in Louisiana to find the Governor’s Program on Abstinence in contempt of a 2002 order requiring it to keep religion out of the taxpayer-funded sex education program.

“The court made clear in 2002 that the state may not use taxpayer dollars to promote religion in its abstinence-only-until-marriage program,” said Louise Melling, Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “The state promised to clean up its act, but it has failed to do so.”

Under a November 2002 settlement, which in part incorporated an earlier court order, the governor’s program agreed to closely monitor the activities of all the programs it funds and to stop using public money to “convey religious messages or otherwise advance religion in any way.”

As the ACLU said in court papers filed today, the governor’s program continues to feature religious materials on its official website, State-appointed experts advise readers, for example, that “abstaining from sex until entering a loving marriage will . . . [make you] really, truly, ‘cool’ in God’s eyes” and that “God is standing beside you the whole way” if you commit to abstinence. The website also features articles with religious messages, including one that states, “God chooses this one sin [sex outside of marriage] above all others as the most destructive to your soul and spirit.”

Late last year, the ACLU sent a letter to the governor’s program asking it to remove all religious content from the website. The state denied any wrongdoing and has failed to remove the material.

“The governor’s program has made wrong choices at every turn by misusing tax dollars to promote religion instead of providing credible information to teens based on science and public health,” said Joe Cook, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “It is past time for the state to abstain from violating the law and walk the talk legally and morally by demonstrating values that respect the rights and freedoms of taxpayers.”

In July 2002, a federal district court found that public funds were being used to convey religious messages and advance religion in the governor’s program, and ordered Louisiana officials to stop the misuse of taxpayer dollars. The case was on appeal when the parties settled in November of that year.

The 2002 case, ACLU of Louisiana v. Foster, was the first legal challenge brought against a program funded through the federal abstinence-only-until-marriage money made available in the 1996 federal welfare reform legislation.

In recent years, the federal government has funneled hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into abstinence-only education programs, even though there is no conclusive evidence that these programs work and mounting evidence that they deter sexually active teens from protecting themselves from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection.

The ACLU’s Memorandum of Law in Support of the Motion for Civil Contempt is available online at: /node/35068

The November 2002 settlement for this case is available online at: /ReproductiveRights/ReproductiveRights.cfm?ID=11272&c=227

The July 2002 district court ruling is available online at: /node/35067

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