BATON ROUGE, La. – The head of Louisiana's abstinence-before-marriage program, Dan Richey, believes in the curriculum. But the question for some: Is he teaching or preaching?
Richey said it's the former, pointing to the 10,000 students who are getting the lessons in school.
"We're teaching. We're in the classroom," he said. "It's been a great message of hope to teen-agers all throughout Louisiana."
But the American Civil Liberties Union strongly disagrees, calling the program blatantly religious. The organization has filed a lawsuit.
"He's abusing our tax dollars by preaching religion at these abstinence-only education programs," said Joe Cook of the ACLU.
The lawsuit calls the curriculum unconstitutional for blaming an alleged increase in sexually transmitted diseases on the removal of prayer from public schools and proclaiming that sex outside marriage is offensive to God.
"It's a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution to have religion involved with a state-funded message," Cook said, adding the program would be OK if the references to God and religion were left out.
Richey said the charges levied in the suit are gross exaggerations.
"This is just a frivolous lawsuit based upon half-truths and distortions," he said. "It's typical ACLU balderdash."
President Bush wants to boost federal spending on abstinence education like Louisiana's by $80 million. The ACLU suit is seen as an opening salvo in a war over the abstinence-only message in some of the Bush-backed programs.
Louisiana lawmakers say they have morality on their side; the ACLU says the Constitution is on theirs. Both are preparing for what looks to be a long court battle ahead.