Catherine Weiss

(WOMENSENEWS)–The state of Louisiana must stop funding religious programs that promote sexual abstinence, a federal judge has ruled, finding that some of the programs unconstitutionally advance religion.

U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. on Thursday ordered the Louisiana Governor’s Program on Abstinence to stop funding organizations or individuals that use abstinence education to “convey religious messages or otherwise advance religion in any way” in materials or events paid for by program funds.

Thursday’s ruling is the first against any of the 49 states using the annual $50 million in abstinence-education funding made available under the 1996 welfare-reform legislation. Porteous’s preliminary injunction does not end abstinence education but prohibits Louisiana from using the money to advance religion at least until a trial on the issue is held, when the injunction could be made permanent. No trial date has been set.

While he expressed disappointment that “such a worthwhile program” had been challenged in the courts, Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster said in a press release that he would take steps to make sure that the state’s abstinence-education programs conform to law.

The Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sought the injunction and Joe Cook, its executive director, expressed his delight with the decision.

“The governor’s program has shamelessly been using taxpayer money to proselytize,” Cook said.

The Louisiana program has received $1.6 million in federal abstinence-only education money each year since 1998. Federal guidelines require that states match $3 to every $4 in federal funds, giving Louisiana as much as $12.4 million to spend on abstinence-only education over the last four years.

Sex Ed Teaches Teens to Live ‘In Accord with God’s Plan for Them’

Some groups funded by the Louisiana program used the money to sponsor religious revivals, radio messages and school skits and clubs that preached abstinence in a Christian context, Porteous wrote.

A fact sheet distributed to Louisiana high school students by the governor’s program asked why sexually transmitted diseases had spread over the last 30 years. “The answer is moral relativism,” the fact sheet stated. “We removed God from the classroom.” Another fact sheet read, “It’s time to restore our Judeo-Christian heritage in America.”

The Crisis Pregnancy Help Center of Slidell, to which the state has donated $111,000 since 1999, wrote that it provided young people with “a Scriptural view of human sexuality.” The Roman Catholic Diocese of Lafayette received $46,000 from the governor’s program to help adolescents lead lives “in accord with God’s plan for them.”

(The state coordinator of the program, Dan Richey, acknowledged to Christianity Today Magazine that the Slidell center and other funded organizations promote religious messages. He added, however, that government funding was strictly for nonreligious instruction.

“Their contract with us is to provide a secular message of abstinence,” Richey told the publication. “Any time we’re aware of an action from a contract that might be of a religious nature, we get on that right away. Every one of our contractors knows that.”)

Porteous ordered the state to implement a monitoring program to guard against misuse of funds. Dan Richey, the program’s director, said that some programs had already been admonished and that others had been denied renewed funding.

State programs that use the federal funds must have as their “exclusive purpose” teaching that out-of-wedlock sex causes social, psychological and physical harm and that abstinence until marriage is the expected norm. Programs using the money are not allowed to teach other methods of pregnancy or disease prevention.

The Louisiana ruling could be cited as precedent in other states where abstinence-only funding is used, but the injunction’s authority is limited to Louisiana.

Future of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Programs Unclear

In May, the House debated abstinence-only programs as the 1996 welfare legislation came up for renewal. Democrats offered amendments requiring that abstinence-only programs be flexible, medically accurate and proven effective at delaying and reducing sexual intercourse among adolescents, reducing the transmission of sexually transmitted infections and reducing the number of teen pregnancies.

None of those measures made it into the reauthorized law. The House voted 229 to 197 to reauthorize the federal abstinence funds, $50 million each year for five years. The Senate will likely vote on the legislation in August but it is uncertain whether it will attempt to also amend the funding guidelines.

Other federal programs provide money for abstinence-only programs, including the $12.5 million Adolescent Family Life program and the Special Projects of Regional and National Significance Research. President Bush requested $73 million in funding for the latter program for 2003, an increase of $33 million over 2002 funding.

Federal abstinence-education money funds programs administered or developed by religious organizations in other states, according to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

“Unfortunately, abstinence-only programs have along history of crossing the line between the religious and the secular,” said Catherine Weiss, director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project.

Asjylyn Loder is a freelance writer in New York City.

For more information:

Also see Women’s Enews, March 11, 2002:
“Some States Rejecting Abstinence-Only Sex Ed”:

Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States:

American Civil Liberties Union:
“ACLU Hails Federal Court’s Decision to Halt Taxpayer
Financing of Religion in Abstinence-Only Programs”:

Colombia Women’s Peace March Draws 20,000

BOGOTA (WOMENSENEWS)–Having been forced by the violence to flee her small plot of land in northern Colombia, Alejandrina Pastor, of the Uiwa indigenous community, came to Bogota this week to take part in a national indigenous meeting and a women’s march for peace.

Chanting and waving torches, more than 20,000 women from different parts of Colombia marched in the capital Thursday demanding a negotiated solution to the four-decade armed conflict.

Pastor, from Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in the north, said that “many local leaders and mayors have been threatened and displaced” in the area where she lives. The state has found it impossible to maintain an effective presence in that region, where local residents live in fear of falling victim to right-wing paramilitary militias or leftist guerrillas, she said.

“They kill our husbands and our sons, and the only thing we can do is cry,” she said.

The women’s peace demonstration was preceded by a national meeting of indigenous women that began Tuesday, which vigorously rejected the violence that claims thousands of civilian lives a year and has led to the internal displacement of around two million people in this war-torn South American country. The meeting was co-sponsored by the United Nations Development Fund for Women and other international organizations.

–By Yadira Ferrer, InterPress Service