ACLU Letters Prompt Government Monitoring of Oregon-based Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Program

July 23, 2007

Civil Liberties Group Asks to Review Documents Obtained Through the State's Investigation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

SALEM, OR - The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Oregon today asked the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) for copies of documents obtained through a state investigation into the possible misuse of taxpayer dollars to promote one faith over others in the abstinence-only-until-marriage program Stop and Think.

"We are pleased that the Oregon Department of Human Services took steps to ensure that a government-funded abstinence-only-until-marriage program does not misuse public dollars to support religious activities," said Jann Carson, Associate Director of the ACLU of Oregon. "Public dollars cannot be used to advance one religion over others."

In May, the ACLU sent letters to both the federal and state health departments inquiring about the potential abuse of taxpayer dollars in the Stop and Think program. The letters noted that Lane Pregnancy Support Center, the Eugene, Oregon-based and government-funded administrator of Stop and Think, had contracts requiring presenters and supervisors 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."

In its reply, DHS said it reviewed its contract with Lane Pregnancy Support Center and "found no evidence" of a breach. DHS also said, without giving any reason, that it had terminated its contract with the center on May 15, less than two weeks after receiving the ACLU's letter of inquiry. That same month, the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched its own investigation.

In a letter received late last week by the ACLU, HHS says that it found no violations in Stop and Think's curriculum, though it notes that following the investigation, Lane will require "all abstinence education program staff to sign a statement of understanding that they may not proselytize while working with any Federally funded program." In addition, as a result of concerns raised by the ACLU, HHS also looked into the federally funded purity balls organized by the Northern Hills Pregnancy Care Center, a sub-grantee of Lane located in South Dakota. HHS found that while Northern Hills "took steps to separate [religious and non-religious] programs, the separation between the two events could in the future be strengthened."

"It is important that both state and federal health departments have stepped up to the plate to monitor these abstinence-only-until-marriage programs," said Diana Kasdan a staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "Hopefully, HHS will continue to monitor other federally funded abstinence-only programs and take the opportunity to ensure that these programs not only don't misuse public dollars for religious purposes, but also do not give teens medically inaccurate and gender-biased information."

The ACLU has urged Congress to cut funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Since 1996, the federal government has spent more than a billion dollars on these programs which have proven ineffective, inaccurate, and gender-biased. 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 strong evidence that such programs can delay sexual activity and increase contraceptive use among teens.

Today's letter to DHS is available at:
/reproductiverights/sexed/30916lgl20070723.html

Letter to ACLU of Oregon from Department of Health and Human Services - July 12, 2007:
/reproductiverights/sexed/30915lgl20070723.html

Letter to ACLU of Oregon from Oregon Department of Human Services - May 18, 2007:
/reproductiverights/sexed/30913lgl20070723.html

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