ACLU Asks Court to Stop Louisiana Governor's Program on Abstinence From Continuing to Preach with Taxpayer Dollars

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
March 24, 2005 12:00 am

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NEW ORLEANS – In a court hearing today, the American Civil Liberties Union 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.

“In blatant disregard of the 2002 court order, the official website of the Louisiana Governor’s Program on Abstinence continues to promote religion,” said Louise Melling, Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “We are back in court to make sure that the state abides by the law and stops misusing taxpayer dollars once and for all.”

Under a November 2002 settlement, whose terms were incorporated in a later court order, the governor’s program agreed to closely monitor the activities of all grantees 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 in January, 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 refused to remove the material.

“The state of Louisiana is using the Governor’s Program on Abstinence as a bully pulpit,” said Joe Cook, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “Taxpayer money shouldn’t be used to deliver sermons.”

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, and up for reauthorization this year.

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 Reply Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion for Civil Contempt is available online at: /node/35062.

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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