ACLU Asks Government to Investigate Evidence of Taxpayer Dollars Funding Religion in Oregon Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Program

May 3, 2007
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org 
 
SALEM, Ore. – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Oregon today asked the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) to investigate evidence of misuse of taxpayer dollars to promote one faith over others in an abstinence-only-until-marriage program Stop and Think.  The groups threatened to pursue legal action if HHS and DHS fail to take sufficient measures within the month.

“This is the third time in recent weeks that the government has been alerted to serious problems in  federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs,” said Julie Sternberg, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.  “Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have been proven ineffective, medically inaccurate, and have a history of using taxpayer dollars to promote religion.  It is time for the government to stop putting ideology above teens’ health.”

The groups sent letters notifying HHS and DHS that the Oregon-based Lane Pregnancy Support Center had contracts requiring presenters and supervisors of its Stop and Think program to “possess an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ; possess knowledge of the Word of God, and the ability to communicate it’s [sic] truth; exhibit a loving and merciful spirit; [and] attend a Bible believing local church or fellowship.”  These requirements strongly suggest that religion is an essential component of the Stop and Think program.  

“Taxpayer dollars cannot be used to advance one religion over others,” said Jann Carson, Associate Director of the ACLU of Oregon.  “Clearly both the state and federal governments have failed to adequately monitor the abstinence-only-until-marriage organizations they fund with public money.”

Last week, the ACLU sent a letter to HHS identifying several federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage materials that violate a federal law requiring medically accurate information about condom effectiveness.  And earlier in April, a federally commissioned study was released showing that, notwithstanding the $176 million of federal funds currently poured into them annually, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs don’t work.  The study looked at several federally funded programs and found that teens who participated in them were just as likely to have sex as teens who did not participate.  Furthermore, these students had first intercourse at the same age, and the same number of sexual partners, as students who did not participate.

In recent years, the ACLU has successfully challenged the misuse of taxpayer dollars in abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.  Last year, the ACLU reached a settlement agreement with HHS over its funding of the Silver Ring Thing, a nationwide ministry that uses abstinence-only-until-marriage programming as a means to bring “unchurched” students to Jesus Christ.  In 2002, the ACLU brought and won the first legal challenge against an abstinence-only-until-marriage program funded through Title V.  In that case, ACLU of Louisiana v. Foster, a federal court ordered the Louisiana Governor’s Program on Abstinence to keep religion out of its taxpayer-funded program. 

Currently, no federal funds are dedicated to supporting sexuality education that both teaches abstinence and includes complete and medically accurate information about how to use contraceptives effectively, despite evidence that these programs can delay sexual activity and increase contraceptive use among teens.

The ACLU’s letter to HHS is available at: www.aclu.org/reproductiverights/sexed/29585lgl20070503.html

The ACLU of Oregon’s letter to DHS is available at: www.aclu.org/reproductiverights/sexed/29589lgl20070503.html

A copy of the Stop and Think contract is available at: www.aclu.org/reproductiverights/sexed/29586lgl20070503.html

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