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Feds halt funding
for "Silver Ring Thing" abstinence program

Feds halt funding
for "Silver Ring Thing" abstinence program

The federal government agreed to stop funding a nationwide program that promotes teen abstinence in order to settle a lawsuit alleging the money was used for Christian proselytizing. The agreement was reached Wednesday between the Department of Health and Human Services and the American Civil Liberties Union. Under the deal, the Silver Ring Thing program won't be eligible for more funding unless it ensures the money won't be used for religious purposes.

"Public funds were being used to fund a road show, really, to convert teens to Christianity," said Julie Sternberg, an ACLU attorney. She said the ACLU supports the program's right to offer religious content, but not with taxpayer money.

Joel Oster of the Alliance Defense Fund, which represented the program in court, said it was "pleased that abstinence-based sex education programs like Silver Ring Thing will continue to have the right to seek federal funding."

The Alliance Defense Fund's Web site describes it as "a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation." Elsewhere on the site, it describes itself as "Christ-centered," saying, "We rely solely upon God's redemptive grace for our existence, our vision, and our sustenance, trusting in His sovereignty as we seek to convey hope to all we serve."

The Silver Ring Thing program, related to a Christian ministry based in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, has received more than $1 million in federal funding during the past three years.

The program puts on shows at churches that include comedy skits, music videos, and a message of abstinence. Young people are given a silver ring and decide whether they want to pledge to abstain from sex.

In its federal lawsuit in May, the ACLU complained that the ring was inscribed with a biblical verse exhorting Christians to remain holy and refrain from sexual sin. It also alleged that group members testified how accepting Jesus improved their lives.

An attorney for the organization has said teens can choose between religious or secular programs and that the program's religious teachings have taken place separately from anything the government funds.

The government terminated the grant effective January 31. A call to an HHS spokesman Thursday was not immediately returned. (AP)

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