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Federal Court Orders Louisiana to Stop Using Federal Taxpayer Dollars to ‘Advance Religion’ in Abstinence-only Programs

In a decision issued late last week, US District Judge G. Thomas Porteous, Jr. ruled that Louisiana’s use of taxpayer dollars “to convey religious messages and advance religion” through its abstinence-only education programs was unconstitutional. In particular, Judge Porteous ruled that the Governor’s Program on Abstinence (GPA), funded by federal and state monies, violated the Constitution’s separation of church and state by programming activities such as theater skits promoting Christianity, Bible distributions, and prayer rallies outside abortion clinics.

President of Advocates for Youth James Wagoner applauded the decision, asserting that abstinence-only “is not a public health programÉ This is either ideology or religious instruction trying to pass itself off as public health,” according to the Washington Post. Catherine Weiss, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project agreed that “This kind of misuse of public funds has a long history in abstinence-only programsÉ[this] decision should stand as a wake-up call that this practice is unacceptable.”

This case, ACLU of Louisiana v. Foster, represents the first time abstinence-only funding provided by the 1996 welfare reform legislation has been litigated. With welfare legislation up for reauthorization this year, President Bush has sought to continue abstinence-only funding at $50 million per year and also boost other federal grants for abstinence from $40 million to $73 million next year.

Sources:

ACLU 5/9/02, 7/25/02; Washington Post 7/26/02; Feminist Majority

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