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Court to Rule on Church Sex Counseling : Lower Court Ruled Against U.S. Funds for Religious Groups

November 09, 1987|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court today agreed to decide whether a federal law aimed at discouraging sexual promiscuity among teen-agers violates the Constitution by promoting religion.

The justices said they will review a ruling that the law, which provides federal money for various programs, is unconstitutional because it allows religious organizations to get some of the money.

In the 1981 law, Congress provided money for programs designed to prevent adolescent pregnancy by promoting self-discipline and to mitigate problems caused by premarital sex and teen-age pregnancy.

Reagan Administration lawyers argued that a federal judge's April 15 decision invalidating the law was "deeply flawed."

'Religious Indoctrination'

But American Civil Liberties Union lawyers said the law "authorizes the use of federal funds to subsidize religious indoctrination as a means of opposing premarital sex, abortion and birth control for teen-agers."

The Adolescent Family Life Act has three general program categories--care, prevention and research.

Care services include pregnancy testing, maternity counseling, adoption and referral help.

Prevention services are those aimed at discouraging adolescent sexual relations and providing counseling.

Struck Down in April

The law requires programs applying for federal funding to describe how, in providing services, they will "involve religious and charitable organizations, voluntary associations and other groups in the private sector."

The law was challenged by a group of taxpayers, clergy members and the American Jewish Congress as a violation of the constitutionally required separation of church and state.

U.S. District Judge Charles R. Richey here struck down the law last April 15.

Although finding that the law "has a valid secular purpose," Richey said the law has "the primary effect of advancing religion and fosters an excessive entanglement between government and religion."

'Brittle Premises'

The government's appeal said Richey's ruling "rests on brittle legal premises."

"As a consequence," the appeal contended, "large numbers of unmarried teen-agers, some pregnant and others likely to become so, may lose vital benefits that Congress intended them to have."

But ACLU lawyers urged the justices to reject the government's appeal.

"Under the AFLA, millions of federal tax dollars are being paid directly and indirectly to religious institutions which use the funds to teach government-approved religious doctrines on sex and family life values," they said.

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