Putting Stop into 'Stop and Think'
cyncooper printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat May 05, 2007 at 01:38:27 PM EST
Let me ask a simple question.  Does the following condition from a contract have religious overtones to you?  "The presenter and supervisor (must) possess an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ."

Did you even have to stop and think about it?

It's only one of several clauses from the contract of Stop and Think, an abstinence-education-only program, but that didn't stop the federal government from awarding it taxpayer dollars.  Now the American Civil Liberties Union is stepping in.

On May 2, 2007, the ACLU wrote to the Department of Health and Human Services to demand an immediate investigation into the awarding of funds to "Stop and Think" and entities associated with it.

Evidence strongly suggests that this funding violates the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution.  Anticipating that your investigation will confirm our own, we request that you take the steps necessary to remedy this misuse of public funds.  If HHS does not satisfactily respond to these requests by the end of this month, the ACLU will consider all necessary and appropriate measures to remedy the situation, including legal action.

The letter was sent by Julie Sternberg, senior Staff Attorney and Ava Barbour, Staff Attorney Fellow of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.

Aside from the use of federal funds set aside of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs -- now $176 million per year -- there are deeper frustrations with the contorted use of this funding.  

First, the government is doing virtually nothing to seek accountability and to assure that our dollars are not going to evangelical efforts; this is an outrage in itself, letting wolves roam through the henhouse freely until someone blasts a whistle on the top of a tower.  In this case, evidence of inappropriate use of the funds came directly from the government's file -- obtained by the ACLU via a freedom of information request.

Second, the groups getting these funds are overtly Christian evangelical organizations, in this case, crisis pregnancy centers founded as Christian ministries.  Since the funds are going to groups that are in a position to violate the separation of church and state, that alone demands a higher level of scrutiny. Grants to these organizations trip buzzers automatically and the government should have systems in place to demand not merely separation, but firewalls, high ones, with strong rules. The government should have detailed reviews of the files to assure compliance, and they should be conducted by inside and outside organizations and more than one person. There should be spot checks and site visits. And instant action against violators, including legal action as well as organizational and person penalties for violations. Those are the systems that we put in place when we care about preventing violations ... and HHS should show that it cares to stop missionary organizations from using federal funds for evangelism.

The third frustration is that, under the current state of the law, challenges generally can be brought only on a case-by-case basis when Establishment questions arise, limiting the ability of outside groups to take action. This appears to have left the door open for the wolves to enter. Demands for accountability is extremely difficult legally, but calls for systemic changes must become louder and more insistent.

In the "Stop and Think" case, the offending clauses arise in the contract between the developer of the program (a crisis pregnancy outfit in Oregon) to the program that is using it.

The contract, in addition to requiring that the presenter and supervisor have a relationship with Jesus, also demands that they possess knowledge of the Word of God, and the ability to communicate it's (sic) truth, and attend a Bible believing local church or fellowship.

The ACLU writes that the contract

"suggests that proselytization is an essential component of the Stop and Think program, and that the program contains religious or sectarian messages. The contract therefore calls into question the properity and legality of the continued funding by HHS ....

Not only is the group violating separation of church and state with its government funding, it is apparently discriminating against nonChristians, as well.

The "Stop and Think" program was developed by an Oregon group, the Eugene Pregnancy Center dba Lane Pregnancy Support Center.  Lane received Community Based Abstinence Education funds from September 30, 2005 running through to Sepatmeber 29, 2008, according to the ACLU.  The contract that the ACLU obtained by Freedom of Information requests is with the Northern Hills Pregnancy Care Center, located in Spearfish, South Dakota.  

The ACLU of Oregon also asked the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) to investigate evidence of misuse of taxpayer dollars.  Lane received Title V, Section 510 abstinence-only-until-marriange funding from the Oregon Department of Human Services, according to the ACLU.  

And, although not challenged by the ACLU in its initial requests, the Northern Hills program also receives state funding from South Dakota (home of the more famous Abstinence Clearinghouse, but don't let me get started on that.)

 Northern Hills, which also takes its Stop and Think to Wyoming, ran job advertisements for its program seeking "letters of Christian testimony," according to the ACLU.  The ACLU also raises questions about Northern Hills' possibly using federal funds for its "faith-based" purity balls.

A conservative publication praised the South Dakota group this way:

Northern Hills Pregnancy Care Center is an evangelical ministry in Spearfish catering to women and families dealing with unplanned pregnancies.

Local activists can take a cue from the ACLU and file requests to see the documents from abstinence-only education programs in their districts and their states.  Others have blatant religious messaging, including "The Silver Ring Thing" (see my post Ding Ding Ding to the Silver Ring Thing).

If the government won't demand accountability, citizens can use a little stop and think of their own.




Display:
This site by the
National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education
put a good start on tracking state abstinence-only education initiatives, and although it's not entirely up-to-date, it gives a good roll on getting going.  




by cyncooper on Sat May 05, 2007 at 02:12:33 PM EST


http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=20077050 21149

Children in a state-funded Baptist social-services program claimed in dozens of exit interviews that they were forced into Christian or specifically Baptist practices or were discouraged from practicing their own religion, according to court records.

The interviews came to light as part of a lawsuit filed by a fired employee and four other taxpayers who are challenging state funding for Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children.

Representatives of the state and Baptist Homes say that the agency's policy is not to proselytize and that violations, if any, are rare....

"They tried to more (or) less force me to become a Christian," said a child who had stayed at the Baptist Youth Ranch in Elizabethtown. "I just felt I was being pressured into giving up my religion."

...Since 2001, the state has paid Baptist Homes about $61 million to care for children whom courts place in state custody, often because they are juvenile offenders or are abused or neglected. The agency also receives private donations.

...The reports include comments from children who said that they were forced to participate in Bible readings, prayer times or Baptist services or that they weren't allowed to practice their own faith.

...Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Virginia, said the comments made in the exit interviews "would raise a lot of red flags for me."

The case "takes us back to a fundamental problem with government funding of religion," he said.

"Generally, it's not good for religious organizations to enter into an arrangement which would restrict its mission."

The big money is at the state level.

by Bruce Wilson on Sat May 05, 2007 at 03:12:46 PM EST


The money funnels out of HHS/ ACF to these states in varied guises that presents a difficult, but not insurmountable, trail to walk back. The money flows from various federal programs, some are faith-based initiatives,others by contract. It is a select group that receives the lion's share and those are ones with provable Bush/GOP political connections--a tight circle of friends. Certain Catholic and evangelical groups are preferred, but again, these are ones who have been plugged into the Bush/Rove machine dating back to their days in Texas that later serviced the Bush/Rove electoral agenda in 2004. But now we see, post 2006, at least eight state governors pushing back against this--refusing the abstinence-only gravy. And the sum, for these folks who were once running a nickel-and-dime enterpise, is not about theocracy, or faith--its about the Benjamins.

by mreyn on Sat May 05, 2007 at 07:12:47 PM EST
Of course, the other thing about abstinence-only education is that it is money down the drain.  It doesn't work, as was confirmed in mid-April by a five-year study commissioned by the government, one of the most comprehensive yet on the topic.

The study, was conducted by Mathematica, a respected evaluation organization.

Here are a couple of choice quotes:


A recent study of four abstinence education programs, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., finds that the programs had no effect on the sexual abstinence of youth. But it also finds that youth in these programs were no more likely to have unprotected sex, a concern that has been raised by some critics of these programs.

The report also says:

The study found that youth in the four evaluated programs were no more likely than youth not in the programs to have abstained from sex in the four to six years after they began participating in the study. Youth in both groups who reported having had sex also had similar numbers of sexual partners and had initiated sex at the same average age.



by cyncooper on Sun May 06, 2007 at 09:39:21 AM EST
Parent


As one who claims to have an authentic and person relationship with Jesus Christ I would not DREAM if putting such as a requirement in a contract. And neither would I have a begging bowl out for state funding if I had a christian mission. These people blaspheme the name of the Christ they profess to serve when they insist on bandying it about like this, therefore they themselves do not, in terms of their own professed doctrine, have said authentic relationship withe Jesus christ. But will they resign their own ministry for failing to meet up to the terms of their own contract? Of course not. this requires both intelligence and integrity, and a willingness to repent of sin. Al of thse things the Religious Right simply would not recognise if they ever saw them.

by strefanash on Sat May 05, 2007 at 08:58:03 PM EST
a special irony.  I guess there isn't much in the way of accounting for that!

by cyncooper on Sun May 06, 2007 at 11:02:52 AM EST
Parent



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