The Project SOS website masthead (Pic via projectsos.com)
The Project SOS website masthead (Pic via projectsos.com)

Additional $1.5 million in taxpayer dollars has gone to controversial abstinence program Project SOS

By | 03.24.11 | 8:02 am

Project SOS — the Jacksonville abstinence education program whose founder has endorsed the work of Ugandan Pastor Martin Ssempa, a vocal proponent of legislation (.pdf) in that country that prescribes the death penalty for homosexuality — has received $1.5 million in funding through the Florida Department of Health since 2001, according to a department representative. That money is in addition to the $6.5 million awarded Project SOS from the federal government since 2002.

The Department of Health provides information about its Abstinence Education Program through It’s Great to Wait, the website for the department’s “statewide media campaign … designed to generate awareness and motivate the community to reduce teen pregnancy.”

According to the site, “programs funded under the Abstinence Education Program must be implemented in accordance with the requirements of Section 510 of Title V of the Social Security Act,” one of the sources of Project SOS’ funding examined in a previous Florida Independent article. Title V (.pdf) requires that states provide a $3 match for every $4 in federal grant money.

It’s Great to Wait lists Project SOS as a “state sponsored program.”

In an email to the Independent, the Department of Health’s Jennifer Hirst writes that SOS is not currently receiving money through the department “due to the lack of federal funding available” for this year. She notes, however, that SOS has received money from the department in the past — “approximately $1,518,901″ since 2001.

According to Hirst, that money came from “sub grants” available through Title V, Florida general revenue dollars and the federal government’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program — one goal of which is to prevent “out-of-wedlock pregnancies.”

While SOS may not be currently receiving state money, Hirst writes that the Department of Health “suspect[s] they will apply for funding for the upcoming year.”

“We haven’t decided yet,” says Project SOS founder Pam Mullarkey when asked whether her organization plans to apply with the Department of Health this year. She says the group is unsure whether it wants to “get in with the government at all,” despite complimenting the agencies she’s dealt with. “They’re wonderful to work with,” Mullarkey says.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (.pdf), Florida could be eligible to receive up to $2.6 million to distribute to abstinence programs.

The Florida Department of Health plans to release requests for application for its abstinence education funding next week; programs seeking money must then complete them within three weeks. “We anticipate announcing the awarded grants on April 25,” Hirst writes.

It remains to be seen if Project SOS’ controversial ties will affect its ability to receive state funding.

“Martin Ssempa is the man to watch,” Mullarkey has said, according to the Ugandan pastor’s website. “He’s the most powerful voice for abstinence in the world and his passion, charisma and character make his vital message irresistible.”

In her original story on Project SOS, the Independent’s Andy Kopsa reported on Ssempa’s connection to “a number of high-profile American evangelicals”:

Among them is Scott Lively, author of the anti-gay book The Pink Swastika, whom some in the media credit with creating fertile ground for the Ugandan “Kill the Gays” bill after a 2009 visit to the country. Lively, in an interview with Current TV last year, said he still considered Ssempa a good friend.

In 2005, Pastor Rick Warren, another well known evangelical and the author of The Purpose Driven Life, kicked off a worldwide anti-AIDS effort, bringing in Ssempa to champion the effort. Warren subsequently condemned Ssempa after his support for the “Kill the Gays” bill came to light.

Mullarkey declined to retract her support for Ssempa:

The Independent provided Mullarkey with numerous links to news articles and YouTube clips, including video of Ssempa calling for the death penalty for homosexuals (whom he refers to as “pedophiles”) while claiming to ABC News that homosexuals eat feces.

“I know Martin well enough to know that because of his Christian faith he would never support the death penalty,” Mullarkey said when asked about Ssempa’s support of a bill that would punish “aggravated homosexuality” with death.

Mullarkey went on to praise Ssempa as a “change agent” who took a stand for abstinence education as a way to rid Uganda of HIV/AIDS. “At the university, Martin took a stand — he had them burning condoms as a commitment to abstinence,” she said.

Mullarkey later softened her stance in an email to the Independent, but still declined to fully denounce Ssempa:

While I don’t believe the allegations made about Pr. Ssempa, and he has categorically denied them, I wish to dissociate and distance myself from the allegations of genocide, violence against gays which are attributed to Dr. Martin Ssempa in the US media. I have partnered with him in HIV/AIDS prevention in the past but am no longer working with him or planning to work with him in the foreseeable future.

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