The Bush administration last week suspended a $75,000 grant for a group that teaches sexual abstinence to teenagers, contending that it has failed to keep the promotion of Christianity out of its federally financed programs.
In an Aug. 22 letter to Silver Ring Thing, based in Moon Township, Pa., an official from the Department of Health and Human Services cites regulations for abstinence funding that say federal-grant recipients may not engage in “inherently religious activities.”
Harry Wilson, an associate commissioner with HHS, adds in the letter to Silver Ring Thing founder Denny Pattyn that the group’s programs include “both secular and religious components that are not adequately separated.”
ACLU Hails Move
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts sued HHS in May over grants to Silver Ring Thing totaling $1 million over the past three years. The ACLU said in its suit that Silver Ring Thing, in its program, urges students to welcome Jesus Christ into their lives.
“It is impermissible for taxpayers to underwrite a roadshow on Christianity,” said ACLU lawyer Julie Sternberg. She said the ACLU would monitor the corrective- action plan that Silver Ring Thing must submit by Sept. 6 to HHS, as well as the department’s response to it.
Joel Oster, a lawyer for the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing Silver Ring Thing, said the ACLU’s suit was the first time anyone had objected to the content of the group’s abstinence program.
He denied that the group had “used a single dollar for inherently religious programs,” adding that when Silver Ring Thing first decided to apply for federal funding, it established a secular program that runs alongside the religion-based one.
He also expressed confidence that the group could have its federal funding restored by “introducing more accounting safeguards” that will clearly separate the funds for its religious program from its secular one.