In a November 17 letter to the Louisiana Governor's Program on Abstinence (GPA), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) identified numerous violations of a 2002 settlement.1 The GPA currently receives over $1.5 million from the federal government's Title V account (the abstinence-only-until-marriage program authorized in conjunction with the Welfare Reform Act of 1996) and over $1 million in state funds. In 2002, the ACLU filed suit against the GPA claiming that it violated the constitutional separation of church and state by using federal and state abstinence-only-until-marriage funds to convey religious messages and advance religion. Later that year, the two parties reached a settlement.
As part of the settlement, the GPA must review lessons and curricula prior to their use and must post a statement on its website as well as on all promotional materials that reads: "The GPA is a health and education program committed to promoting and publicizing the benefits of abstinence. Under limits imposed by the Constitution, the GPA's funds may not be used for activities, events or materials that include religious messages or otherwise promote or advance religion."2
In its November 17 letter, the ACLU noted many examples of website content that violated this settlement. One such example appears in a section entitled "Ask the Experts" where a young woman asks how she should convince her friend to remain a virgin. The GPA's "expert" responds, "Tell your friend that abstaining from sex until entering a loving marriage will give her the freedom to acheive [sic] true self-esteem - to be really, truly, 'cool' in God's eyes as well as yours and mine."3 In answer to a question about virginity pledges, the expert writes, "God will help you to explain what you mean…He will provide the words, if you let Him…please know that God is standing beside you the whole way. Have courage and answer the question as God wants you to."4
According to the ACLU's letter, the website also refers readers to scripture in linked articles and includes summaries of articles that advance religion. For example, an article by the American Life League is included in the website's "Library." The article states, "The condom's biggest flaw is that those using it to prevent the conception of another human being are offending God." It continues, "Furthermore, each and every act of marital intercourse must be both unitive and open to procreation. Any action, including condom use, which has as its purpose to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil."5
According to Joe Cook, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana, "The GPA has not only failed to correct the error of its ways, but in the past two years it has gone out of its way to use taxpayer money to layer religious content on religious content. It is time for the GPA to be held accountable to the Constitution and to its own legal agreements. If it fails to do so, we'll see them in court for round two."7
According to the Governor's deputy press secretary, Roderick Hawkins, the Governor's office was unaware of the site's content or of the 2002 settlement until they received the ACLU's letter. He said the office is looking into the matter and stated, "Our concern is that the site comply [sic] with the agreement and the settlement of 2002. That's what we're doing right now - making sure the site complies."
According to the GPA's former director, Dan Richey, the program has followed the settlement and contracts with the Louisiana Family Forum to develop and maintain the site.8 The Louisiana Family Forum, whose mission is to "persuasively present biblical principles in the centers of influence," has in turn handed the contract over to Nancy Victory, wife of conservative Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Victory. Ms. Victory stated that the site is "not involved with promoting religion."9
If the GPA does not remove all offensive content by December 17, 2004, the ACLU says they will take further legal action.Download the 2002 settlement agreement.
- Letter from ACLU to GPA published 17 November 2004, accessed 29 November 2004.
- Access online at the Louisiana GPA's website.
- Ask the Experts, Governor's Program on Abstinence, accessed 29 November 2004.
- Letter from ACLU to GPA.
- Library, Medical Info: Safe Sex, Governor's Program on Abstinence, accessed 29 November 2004.
- Louisiana ACLU, "ACLU Asks Louisiana to Remove Religious Content from Abstinence-Only Website, Citing Numerous Violations of 2002 Agreement," Press release published on 17 November 2004, accessed 22 November 2004.
- Keith O'Brien, "ACLU Threatens to File Lawsuit over Abstinence Program: Despite Settlement Web site cites God," The Times Picayune, 18 November 2004, A4.