ACLU Asks Louisiana to Remove Religious Content from Abstinence-Only Website, Citing Numerous Violations of 2002 Agreement

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
November 17, 2004 12:00 am

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NEW ORLEANS – The American Civil Liberties Union today asked Louisiana to remove all religious content from a state-sponsored abstinence-only sex education website, saying the material violates a 2002 legal settlement and court order prohibiting the use of taxpayer dollars to fund religious activities in the Governor’s Program on Abstinence. The ACLU promised further legal action if the offending material is not taken down within 30 days.

“Just two years ago, we took the state to court on this very issue, and the court made clear that the state may not use taxpayer money to promote religious beliefs,” said Louise Melling, Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “The state promised to clean up its act; it has not made good on that promise.”

Under a November 2002 settlement, which in part incorporated an earlier court order, the Governor’s Program on Abstinence (GPA) agreed to closely monitor the activities of all the programs it funds and to stop using GPA funds to “convey religious messages or otherwise advance religion in any way.”

In a letter sent yesterday to the GPA’s attorney, the ACLU cites numerous instances where GPA web materials promote religion, including advising readers that “abstaining from sex until entering a loving marriage will [make you] really, truly, ‘cool’ in God’s eyes”; offering a wedding skit featuring a minister preaching about God’s view of “holy matrimony”; and summarizing and linking to numerous articles that convey religious messages.

“The GPA has not only failed to correct the error of its ways, but in the past two years it has gone out of its way to use taxpayer money to layer religious content on religious content,” said Joe Cook, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “It is time for the GPA to be held accountable to the Constitution and to its own legal agreements. If it fails to do so, we’ll see them in court for round two.”

In July 2002, a federal district court found that GPA funds were being used to convey religious messages and advance religion, and ordered Louisiana officials to stop this 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 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.

The ACLU’s letter addressing the settlement violations is available online at: /node/35066
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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