updated 8/23/2005 10:10:27 PM ET 2005-08-24T02:10:27

The federal government has cut off funding to a nationwide program that promotes abstinence to teens through skits and music videos, saying the group in charge of the campaign did not adequately separate religion from its message.

The Silver Ring Thing program, related to a Christian ministry based in the Pittsburgh suburbs, puts on shows at churches nationwide that include “Saturday Night Live”-style 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.

Department of Health and Human Services regulations state that groups receiving department funding “may not engage in inherently religious activities, such as worship, religious instruction or proselytization.”

The department said in a letter dated Monday that if such activities are offered, they must be held separately from programs or services funded by the government.

“Our review indicates that the (Silver Ring Thing) may not have included adequate safeguards to clearly separate in time or location inherently religious activities from the federally funded activities,” said the letter, signed by Harry Wilson, associate commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau.

The department said it was suspending funds until the group submits a plan detailing how it plans to remedy the issue.

$1.2 million since 2003
Since 2003, Silver Ring Thing has received $1.2 million from the department as part of the Bush administration’s initiative to expand abstinence-only education.

Messages left for Denny Pattyn, Silver Ring Thing’s founder and president, and Health and Human Services officials were not immediately returned Tuesday.

The department’s decision follows a lawsuit that the American Civil Liberties Union filed in May, claiming that the federal government improperly used taxpayer dollars to fund the group’s religious activities.

Julie Sternberg, an attorney with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said the group was pleased the government recognized that the Silver Ring Thing’s road show was improper.

The Silver Ring Thing has said that more than 30,000 young people have committed themselves to abstinence after attending the program’s three-hour presentations.

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