Battle Over Government-Funded Abstinence Programs

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," May 17, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For charities helping the needy, it should not matter if there's a rabbi on the board or a cross on the wall or a crescent on the wall or a religious commitment on the charter. You need to ask, "Does it work?"


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Faith-based initiatives are a top priority of the president, but the ACLU (search) is suing his administration for giving money to a faith-based program that promotes abstinence.

I'm joined now by Matthew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, and Rabbi Jack Moline, the vice chair at large of the Interfaith Alliance Board of Directors.

Big question, Rabbi: Why shouldn't the government fund programs that do good work, like this faith-based abstinence program?

RABBI JACK MOLINE, THE INTERFAITH ALLIANCE: Well, the government is not just funding a program that does good work. The government is funding a program that calls students to believe in Jesus as their Lord and savior, and that crosses a line that I think is entirely inappropriate constitutionally.

GIBSON: Wait a minute. That is a fact? This abstinence program is — Mr. Staver, is that's what's going on, that you get a message of abstinence and Jesus?

MATTHEW STAVER, PRESIDENT, LIBERTY COUNSEL: No, that's not. This particular ministry is a religious ministry, and it does a lot of other things besides this abstinence-based program. And so, in other areas outside of the abstinence-based program or outside of any mandatory abstinence-based program, they clearly have a religious message.

But their message is abstinence-based, and it's a faith-based ministry. The reason why the president wants to fund these faith-based ministries or outreaches is because they work, and consequently, we don't want to strip them of everything.

On the other hand, they're not to be evangelization or proselytizing organizations. In this particular organization, it's not. It's doing a good job. It's having success. It's having results.

GIBSON: Rabbi, is the ACLU here saying that abstinence is a religious message?

MOLINE: Oh, absolutely not.

GIBSON: In other words, abstinence is nonreligious?

MOLINE: Absolutely not. There may be people, and I might be among them, who would argue that an abstinence-only curriculum is not a positive approach to knowledge. But that's not what's at issue here.

What's at issue here is should a religious organization which claims success based on its faith either be promoting its faith or be stripped of the very thing that it claims is responsible for its success? Either way, the government is getting a bad deal.

GIBSON: Mr. Staver, this has been a long time coming. Anybody who has seen the ACLU's history with church and state issues should have figured that the president's faith-based programs were going to come under fire. So here it is. Are the faith-based programs ready to defend themselves?

STAVER: Well, I think they are ready to defend themselves. But based upon past history, the ACLU has taken a very radical view against abstinence only or abstinence-based curricula. And they've essentially argued that abstinence based curricula is a religious viewpoint, and yet there's a lot of people that share that particular philosophy and idea. That's the best approach for many people, whether they're religious or not.

Clearly, they are going to be under attack, and it's no surprise that the ACLU is bringing this lawsuit. But I think, in the final analysis, the United States Supreme Court (search) has gone away from its stilted view of the establishment clause, and I think these faith-based initiatives that the president strongly supports will finally be upheld by the United States Supreme Court, once this case or some other case goes to the high court.

GIBSON: Rabbi, how is the argument going to go?

MOLINE: Well, John, I think it's interesting...

GIBSON: Let me put a fine point on it. How is the argument going to go before justices, or if it gets that far, when they say, "Look, other people aren't solving this abstinence problem. Other people aren't solving this teenage promiscuity problem. Other people aren't solving this teenage pregnancy problem. Why not give these faith-based groups a chance to try?"

MOLINE: Well, there's certainly nothing wrong with churches and religious institutions promoting their particular faith-based approach to sex education or whatever they'd like to call it, health education or marriage education.

But we're talking about public funds being spent in a public setting to educate a broad base of students who may or may not be adherents of that particular religious tradition.

And I'm interested in the language, too, that Mr. Staver uses here, pegging the ACLU as a radical group, holding them radically against abstinence-based education. We're not talking about abstinence-based education here. Every education on teenage sexuality is abstinence based. This is an abstinence only education. It denies these children an education of the broader knowledge base necessary to protect themselves.

GIBSON: Rabbi Moline and Mr. Staver, I've got to run. Thanks a lot. We'll continue the debate. Appreciate it.

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