- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 25, 2005

Louisiana’s abstinence program has not violated a court order with its religious content, a federal judge ruled this week.

The Governor’s Program on Abstinence has religious references on its Web site as well as links to other sites that promote prayer and repentance, but these references do not constitute an excessive entanglement between government and religion, U.S. District Court Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. ruled Thursday.

Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, a Democrat, did not comment, but had previously defended the Web site as offering constitutionally protected “discussion of religious issues.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has twice brought the state abstinence program to court, said it was “disconcerted” by Judge Porteous’ ruling.

“The evidence in this case is clear,” said Louise Melling, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.

A 2002 court order requires the state to stop using public dollars to promote religion in any way, she said, and the abstinence program violated that order when it featured religious materials and promoted “one religious perspective” on its Web site.

At issue were quotes from “state-appointed experts,” such as one from a 17-year-old girl who said staying chaste makes people “really, truly ‘cool’ in God’s eyes.”

The ACLU also objected to a feature article that said “God chooses this one sin above all others as destructive to your soul and spirit,” referring to nonmarital sex.

“If telling kids that abstaining from sex will bring them closer to God isn’t religion, I don’t know what is,” Joe Cook, executive director of the ACLU in Louisiana, said after Thursday’s ruling.

In May, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court in Boston against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) over its funding of another abstinence program.

The Silver Ring Thing program, which has won more than $1 million from the federal government, “urges students to commit themselves to Christ,” said lawyer Julie Steinberg, who is employed by the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. This shouldn’t be done with taxpayer dollars, she said.

Last week, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a conservative legal-defense group based in Scottsdale, Ariz., filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of the Silver Ring Thing.

The Pennsylvania-based abstinence program, which encourages teens to sign a virginity pledge and wear a silver ring in honor of their promise, “has abided by all the federal requirements.”

“None of the funding is used for religious indoctrination,” said ADF lawyer Joel Oster.


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