ACLU Hails Federal Court's Decision to Halt Taxpayer Financing of Religion in Abstinence-Only Programs

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
July 25, 2002 12:00 am

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Victory in First-Ever Challenge to Program Funded By Welfare Reform Law


NEW ORLEANS, LA-Citing misuse of taxpayer dollars, a federal district court today blocked the state of Louisiana from funding religious activities in the Governor’s Program on Abstinence.

“”We are pleased that the court has recognized that using public money to promote religious beliefs violates the basic principle of religious liberty,”” said Catherine Weiss, Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “”Unfortunately, abstinence-only programs have a long history of crossing the line between the religious and the secular. Today’s decision should stand as a wake-up call that this practice is unacceptable.””

The Louisiana Governor’s Program on Abstinence (GPA), which runs on federal and state dollars, has habitually funded abstinence-only programs that, among other things, present theater skits with Jesus as a character, feature a chastity curriculum entitled “”God’s Gift of Life,”” and minister to teens about the “”scriptural, spiritual, and practical foundation for combating the issues of premarital sex.””

“”The Governor’s Program has shamelessly been spending taxpayer money to proselytize,”” said Joe Cook, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “”It’s time for our public officials to get out of the church house, go back to the state house, and start spending tax dollars legally.””

In today’s decision, the court has ordered the state to take appropriate steps to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not being used to advance religious beliefs.

“”As evidenced by both Monthly Reporting Forms and by grant proposals, GPA funds are being used to convey religious messages and advance religion,”” the court noted in the decision. “”The GPA office is ordered to cease and desist from disbursing GPA funds to organizations or individuals that convey religious messages or otherwise advance religion in any way in the course of any event supported in whole or in part by GPA funds.””

The case is the first challenge brought against a program funded through the federal abstinence-only money made available in the 1996 federal welfare reform legislation, which is up for reauthorization this year. The House of Representatives passed legislation earlier this year maintaining current funding levels for abstinence-only education within welfare reform; the Senate is expected to consider this issue within the next few months.

The case is ACLU of Louisiana v. Foster, No. 02-1440. 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.

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