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The Department of Health and Human Services has suspended an abstinence-education grant to the Silver Ring Thing program amid worries that the organization uses tax dollars to promote Christianity, The Washington Post reports. HHS, in announcing that it is withholding a $75,000 grant from the organization, concluded that SRT "includes both secular and religious components that are not adequately safeguarded." SRT must submit a corrective-action plan to HHS to better separate its religious and secular aspects if the organization wants the funding to be restored, according to Harry Wilson, associate commissioner of HHS's Family and Youth Services Bureau.
The American Civil Liberties Union had filed a lawsuit in federal court against HHS, saying the government agency was promoting Christianity through its funding of groups like SRT. Teens who participate in SRT receive a silver ring that reminds them to "keep clear of sexual sin" by remaining abstinent, according to the ACLU lawsuit. Participants also sign a pledge "before God Almighty" to remain virgins. Documents filed by SRT with the Internal Revenue Service also acknowledge that the organization is an "evangelistic ministry."
SRT officials insist that federal funds aren't being used to promote religion, saying that the organization offers both religious and secular abstinence programs that participants can choose from. "Any religious teaching that goes on is separate in time and place from what the government is funding," Joel Oster, an attorney at the Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing SRT, told the Post.
ACLU officials plan to continue to monitor SRT for possible misuse of federal abstinence funds.