ACLU Announces Settlement in Case Against Taxpayer Financing of Religion in Louisiana Abstinence-Only Programs

NEW ORLEANS — The American Civil Liberties Union today announced a settlement with the Louisiana governor’s office in a case challenging the use of taxpayer dollars to fund religious activities in the Governor’s Program on Abstinence.

“We are gratified that the governor’s office has agreed to keep religion out of state-sponsored sex education programs,” said Catherine Weiss, Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project and a lawyer in the case. “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.”

Under the settlement, the governor’s abstinence program, also known as GPA, has agreed to monitor closely the activities of all the programs it funds.

According to the agreement, recipients of abstinence program funds must submit monthly reporting forms to the governor’s office certifying that “this month no activity, event or material created or supported in whole or in part with GPA funds has included religious content; that no GPA funds have been used to advocate or promote, through prayer or otherwise, religion or religious messages.”

In addition, abstinence program personnel will conduct quarterly in-person reviews of funded programs and examine lesson plans and/or curricula prior to the beginning of instruction.

Any programs discovered to be promoting religion will have to correct the violation within a prescribed period of time. Under the terms of the agreement, the governor’s abstinence program will neither renew nor consider new funding requests in the next contract period from programs or individuals that persist in preaching or teaching religion.

“This settlement recognizes that preaching should not be a taxpayer funded activity,” said Joe Cook, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “The governor’s office has finally agreed to obey the law and leave the promotion of religion in the hands of parents and in private places of worship.”

U.S. District Court Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. granted a preliminary injunction on July 24th; prior to the November 8th settlement the case was on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The court had held that the governor’s program habitually funded programs that convey religious messages and otherwise advance religion.

The case is the first challenge brought against a program funded through the federal abstinence-only money made available in the 1996 federal welfare reform legislation, which is up for reauthorization.

The case is ACLU of Louisiana v. Foster, No. 02-1440. Lawyers for the plaintiff include Catherine Weiss and Jaya Ramji of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project; Lawrence S. Lustberg, Jessica A. Roth, Risa E. Kaufman, and Philip G. Gallagher of Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione; and Vincent Booth, cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Louisiana, of Booth & Booth.

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