ACLU Asks Court to Stop Taxpayer Financing of Religion in Abstinence-Only Programs

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
May 9, 2002 12:00 am

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NEW ORLEANS, LA-Charging abuse of tax dollars to fund programs that preach religion in abstinence-only education, the American Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit here in federal court against Louisiana public officials.

“The principle of religious liberty is violated when public money is used to promote religious beliefs,” said Catherine Weiss, Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “This kind of misuse of public funds has a long history in abstinence-only programs, even though the law requires that their content be secular.”

The Louisiana Governor’s Program on Abstinence, which runs on government money, has proclaimed in its own materials that “it’s time to restore our Judeo-Christian heritage in America.” It has also made thousands of dollars in grants to programs that, among other things, presented “Christ-centered” theater skits, held a religious youth revival, and produced radio shows that “share abstinence as part of the gospel message.”

Today’s case is the first challenge brought against a program funded through the federal abstinence-only money made available in the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, which is up for reauthorization this year. The federal government currently provides more than $100 million a year in taxpayer funds to abstinence-only programs.

“This case is yet another example of the state of Louisiana using public money to preach religion,” said Joe Cook, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “The governor’s office has to get out of the pulpit and stop putting taxpayer money in the collection plate.”

In 1988, in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Bowen v. Kendrick, the ACLU challenged one of the federal statutes providing abstinence-only funding. The Court held that “any use of public funds to promote religious doctrines violates the [Constitution].”

Today’s case demonstrates that the state of Louisiana is not obeying this constitutional rule, the ACLU said.

The case, filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, is ACLU of Louisiana v. Foster. Lawyers for the plaintiff include Catherine Weiss and Jaya Ramji of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project; Lawrence S. Lustberg, Jessica A. Roth, Risa E. Kaufman, and Philip G. Gallagher of Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione; and Vincent Booth, cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Louisiana, of Booth & Booth.

The ACLU brief is available online at:

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