AIDS Funding for Bible Stories? ACLU Asks
MANHATTAN (CN) - The ACLU wants the U.S. Agency for International Development to release records on groups that use federal money to teach "religiously infused" sexual abstinence programs overseas. "USAID has a history of unconstitutionally funding religious abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in developing countries," according to the federal complaint.
The ACLU claims USAID has been using taxpayer money from the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief program to fund faith-based programs that the Justice Department warned have "crossed a line."
"Abstinence-only-until-marriage instruction fails to provide youth with the tools they need to make healthy decisions. Indeed, providing information about and access to condoms is crucial in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, and withholding this information can cause serious harm to young people," the ACLU says.
The Inspector General of USAID found in an audit that the agency funded faith-based organizations, the ACLU claims. These groups teach "abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula used abroad that included instruction on biblical stories and biblical verses."
The complaint cites a curriculum with "an optional 'Biblical Application' using a psalm for 'reflection or memorization.' ... The 'key concept' noted in this curriculum is that 'God has a plan for sex and this plan will help you and protect you from harm.'"
The ACLU wants USAID to monitor grant recipients properly and ensure that federal money is not sponsoring religious activities in violation of the First Amendment.
USAID received FOIA requests from the ACLU in July and September 2009, but has withheld the records without explanation, the ACLU says.
The ACLU says that for several years, tax dollars have allowed secular and faith-based organizations to teach a program called HIV/AIDS Prevention through Abstinence and Behavior Change for Youth. The curriculum includes biblical stories about Jesus and psalms, according to the complaint.
After USAID sought guidance from the Justice Department about the program, which was being used in Southern Africa, the Justice Department told USAID that the curriculum "crossed a line" and should not be used.
The ACLU claims that spreading faith-based messages is not the grant recipients' only violation.
"Press reports indicate that USAID has also violated the Constitution by allowing one of its largest recipients of development grants, World Vision, to discriminate based on religion when hiring individuals to work on federally funded projects."
The ACLU is represented by house attorney Brigitte Amiri.