Suit settlement restricts church in sex education Use of U.S. funds brings tight limits

January 21, 1993|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- An out-of-court deal, made on the last night of the Bush administration, may make it impossible for churches to teach their faith when they use federal funds to pay for sex education to teen-agers.

After a nearly decade-long court battle that once went to the Supreme Court, a constitutional challenge to churches that use so-called "Chastity Act" money was settled late Tuesday night -- two days before the trial was to start today.

The dispute was between religious figures opposed to government endorsement of religion and the federal government and church-run projects.

The restrictions written into the settlement appeared likely to make it more difficult for Roman Catholic organizations to qualify for federal grants, if they insist that the sex education be taught by clergy or include dogma.

Under the settlement, approved by a federal judge here, government-financed programs to teach teen-agers not to have sex and avoid pregnancy may have to cover up all of the religious symbols if the program is held in a church itself or in a parochial school. A stained glass window, however, would not have to be covered.

Barricades sometimes would have to be set up to obscure the altar and other religious insignia or objects, if a sanctuary itself were used.

Although there is not a total ban on providing government-funded sex education in parochial schools, that is discouraged, during school hours, by the settlement deal.

The settlement would not directly bar priests, nuns, or other members of the clergy from ties to a federally aided project, but their involvement could reduce the chances that a religious institution could qualify for a grant since it must prove it would not teach its dogma about sexuality.

If a teen-ager in a federally funded project asked about birth control, the program would have to make a referral to a family planning agency, and could not try to urge the teen-ager to use a church-approved method -- such as the rhythm method -- instead of regular contraceptives.

A church getting federal funds would have to try to get teen-agers other than those of its own faith into its program, and may not choose teen-agers solely on the basis of their religious preference.

No project getting "Chastity Act" money could give any counseling about abortion, and thus could not discourage or encourage it. The "Chastity Act" was adopted by Congress in 1981 to finance demonstration projects on teen sexuality, with emphasis on avoiding sexual relations altogether.

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