ACLU sues Mississippi for abstinence-only event
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit against a Mississippi department in federal court asking the court to end the government funding of Mississippi’s abstinence-only-until-marriage program.
The Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) holds an annual teen abstinence summit every May. After last year’s summit that involved overt religious messages, the ACLU sent a letter to MDHS asking the department to provide assurance that all future summits will remain secular. MDHS never responded to the letter.
Then this year, again there were religious and Christian messages included in the program. A Mississippi judge gave a presentation about the Ten Commandments and stated to the teen audience, “Abstain, God says, from promiscuous sex – thou shall not commit adultery. But why?….He’s telling us that He created this great and wonderful gift for a special and unique relationship that is to last forever.” The program also included prayers and a performance by the Pilgrim Rest Mime Ministry to gospel songs.
Mississippi received almost $3 million in federal funds between 2007 and 2008 for its abstinence-only-until-marriage program. The ACLU claims that the state’s use of taxpayer dollars to sponsor religious events is unconstitutional. Further, the abstinence summit violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment which requires strict separation between church and state. In other words, a state sponsored event may not promote or endorse religion.
The ACLU argues that Mississippi is doing more harm than good by preaching rather than teaching teens about safe sex and making responsible and healthy decisions. Some studies including a 2007 congressionally mandated study have found that teens who participated in abstinence-only programs were just as likely to have sex at the same mean age as other teens.