National and State ACLU File Suit to End Ab-Only Funding in Mississippi


The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Mississippi today asked a federal court in Mississippi to end government funding of religion in the state’s abstinence-only-until-marriage program.  The case was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District on behalf of a teen and two community members who attended a state-sponsored abstinence summit in May of this year.

“The state of Mississippi cannot sponsor overtly religious events as part of its abstinence-only-until-marriage program,” said Brigitte Amiri, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.  “This is not the first time the state has crossed the line in its abstinence programming, but we hope it will be the last. Instead of preaching, the state needs to start teaching youth how to make responsible and healthy decisions throughout their lives.”

As part of National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) holds an annual teen abstinence summit each May.  After last year’s summit, which included overt religious messages, the ACLU sent a letter to MDHS asking for assurances that future events would remain secular.  MDHS did not respond to the ACLU’s letter and failed to address the legal concerns in this year’s event.

The 2009 summit featured religious themes and overtly Christian messages, including a lengthy presentation about the Ten Commandments by Judge John N. Hudson of the Adams County Court in Natchez, MS. Judge Hudson told the audience, “Abstain, God says, from promiscuous sex – thou shall not commit adultery. But why? Is not God being a killjoy? Did He not create this great gift which is so good and wonderful?  Why would He tell us not to do it? He’s not. He’s telling us that He created this great and wonderful gift for a special and unique committed relationship that is to last forever.”  The program also included several prayers and a performance to gospel songs by the Pilgrim Rest Mime Ministry.

“By using the summit to promote a religious message rather than offer health-related information, the state missed an important opportunity to help teens make healthy and smart decisions when it comes to sexuality,” said Kristy L. Bennett, Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Mississippi. “Study after study shows that abstinence-only-until-marriage approaches are ineffective at preventing teen pregnancy or the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.  Given the high rates of teen pregnancy and HIV infection in Mississippi, the failings of this year’s summit are inexcusable.”

In Fiscal Years 2007 and 2008 MDHS received $1,428,753 each year in federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funds.

“Mississippi cannot continue to act like it is above the Constitution and repeatedly sponsor religious events with taxpayer money,” said Daniel Mach, Director of Litigation for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. 

Since 1996, Congress has appropriated more than 1.5 billion dollars for programs that focus solely on promoting abstinence and censoring information that young people need to make healthy and responsible decisions about sexuality. A 2007 congressionally mandated study found that teenagers who had taken abstinence-only courses were just as likely to have sex at the same mean age as other teens. Alternatively, studies show that curricula that stress waiting to have sex while providing information about effective contraceptive use can significantly delay the initiation of sex, reduce the frequency of sex and the number of sexual partners and increase condom or contraceptive use among sexually active teens.

 

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  • crowepps

    including a lengthy presentation about the Ten Commandments by Judge John N. Hudson of the Adams County Court in Natchez, MS. Judge Hudson told the audience, “Abstain, God says, from promiscuous sex – thou shall not commit adultery.

    Adultery is when a married person has sex with someone other than their spouse. Since most schoolchildren aren’t married, adultery isn’t a big problem. Judge Hudson seems to be mixing this up with fornication, which is when an unmarried person has sex. I certainly hope the Judge understands that the idea that unmarried people shouldn’t have sex is a RELIGIOUS belief. Obviously he does NOT understand that public tax monies aren’t supposed to be used to promote religious beliefs. The recent article about a football coach who took his players to a Baptist revival and had them baptized seems to indicate this point has been missed by a LOT of school staff.

     

    http://www.decaturdaily.com/detail/42842.html

  • paul-bradford

    So much has been made of the connection between abstinence only education and teen pregnancy that we’ve lost sight of the connection between education itself and teen pregnancy.

     

    The better education a girl or young woman has the longer she will delay pregnancy.  It doesn’t matter whether she studies biology or religion or whatever — just staying in school is what counts.

     

    The biggest reason for teen pregnancy isn’t sexual ‘messages’ kids get from the media — the biggest reason for teen pregnancy is a lack of purpose and direction.  The girl who’s aiming to get into Harvard Med School is far less likely to get pregnant than the girl who drops out in tenth grade.

     

    Think about this the next time your town asks for more funding for the school budget.  Think about this the next time a college asks you to make a donation.  Think about this the next time someone at your church asks you to volunteer for the literacy program.

     

    Education = Population Control 

     

    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • colleen

    The biggest reason for teen pregnancy isn’t sexual ‘messages’ kids get from the media — the biggest reason for teen pregnancy is a lack of purpose and direction..

    The biggest reason for teen pregnancy in Mississippi is that a savage and racist Republican party controlled by the religious right completely controls the state.

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD