The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced yesterday that a settlement has been reached in its case ACLU of Louisiana vs Foster, the first litigation challenging abstinence-only funding provided by the 1996 welfare reform legislation. Nearly four months after 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, the Governor’s Program on Abstinence (GPA) consented to periodic curricula reviews and monthly reports certifying the exclusion of religious content and/or promotion in its programming. GPA, funded by federal and state monies, earlier violated the Constitution’s separation of church and state by incorporating activities such as theater skits promoting Christianity, Bible distributions, and prayer rallies outside abortion clinics.
“This settlement should put other states on notice that using taxpayer money to promote religious beliefs violates the basic principle of religious freedom and will not be tolerated,” said Catherine Weiss, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. Under terms of the agreement, incompliant programs will receive a set period to correct their violations. However, those continuing to meld religion and sex education will be dropped from the GPA.
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.