ACLU Applauds Federal Government's Decision to Suspend Public Funding of Religion by Nationwide Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Program

August 22, 2005

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Media@dcaclu.org

BOSTON - The American Civil Liberties Union and Jenner & Block LLP applauded the federal government's decision today to suspend the flow of taxpayer dollars funding the Silver Ring Thing, a nationwide ministry that uses abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education as a means to bring "unchurched" students to Jesus Christ.

FEATURE
See changes made to silverringthing.com

PRESS RELEASES
Web Site Removes Religious Content (5/19/05)

ACLU Challenges Abstinence-Only Program (5/16/05)

LEGAL COMPLAINT
ACLU of Massachusetts v. Mike Leavitt, Secretary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

"We are pleased that the Department of Health and Human Services today recognized that the Silver Ring Thing was blatantly misusing public dollars," said Julie Sternberg, a senior staff Attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "As we have said all along, it is improper for the federal government to underwrite efforts to convert teenagers to a particular faith."

In a letter sent today to Denny Pattyn, founder of the Silver Ring Thing, the Department of Health and Human Services expressed concern that the program "may not have included adequate safeguards to clearly separate in time or location inherently religious activities from the federally-funded activities.... Based on the information received to date, we do not believe that [the Silver Ring Thing's] actual use of federal funds for its program adequately complies with Federal grant requirements."

"Today's actions by the federal government are a step in the right direction," said Daniel Mach, a partner at Jenner & Block LLP. "We will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that taxpayer dollars in abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are not again misused."

The ACLU filed a lawsuit in May challenging the misuse of more than one million dollars awarded by the federal government to the Silver Ring Thing since August 2003. The complaint cites numerous violations, among them that the Silver Ring Thing's flagship three-hour program features members testifying about accepting Jesus Christ, quoting from Bible passages, and providing audience members with the Silver Ring Thing Bible. Within 24 hours of the filing of the lawsuit, the Silver Ring Thing substantially altered and removed religious content from its Web site.

Evidence shows that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs do not prevent teens from having sex before marriage. Moreover, research indicates that many of these programs actually deter teens from protecting themselves from unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases when they become sexually active.

"The Department of Health and Human Services was right to stop funding of the Silver Ring Thing; however, the federal government needs to take a closer look at its funding of other abstinence-only-until-marriage programs," said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. "These programs have been proved not only ineffective, but also dangerous to the health and well-being of teens."

Since 1997, the federal government has spent more than $700 million taxpayer dollars on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. In June, the House of Representatives approved an increase of $11 million for fiscal year 2006, well below the president's requested for a $38 million increase. The full Senate has not completed its appropriations process; however, the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a $1.8 million increase.

The case in question is ACLU of Massachusetts v. Leavitt. No. 1:05-cv-11000-JLT. Lawyers on the case include Sternberg of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, Mach, Craig Cowie, Avlana Eisenberg, Victoria Jueds, Thomas Pulham, and Jessica Tillipman of Jenner & Block LLP, and Sarah Wunsch of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

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