Law & Courts A Washington Roundup

U.S. Sued Over Abstinence Grant to Religious Group

By Vaishali Honawar — May 24, 2005 1 min read
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The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts sued the Department of Health and Human Services last week for giving more than $1 million in federal money to an abstinence-based sex education program that openly promotes Christianity among its teenage participants.

The Silver Ring Thing, based in Moon Township, Pa., says its mission is to offer “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as the best way to live a sexually pure life.” Its representatives testify at a three-hour program about having accepted Jesus and urge students to ask Jesus to come into their lives, according to the suit filed May 16 in U.S. District Court in Boston. The suit contends that the department’s funding violates the First Amendment’s prohibition against government establishment of religion.

The Bush administration has been a strong proponent of abstinence education and of the inclusion of faith-based groups in providing social services. The fiscal 2005 federal budget includes $170 million for abstinence programs, double the amount spent in fiscal 2001.

Denny Pattyn, the founder of the Silver Ring Thing, did not return calls for comment. A Health and Human Services Department spokesman declined to comment on the suit, but said that the Silver Ring Thing had used its $1.3 million in federal funds over the past three years on a variety of programs.

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