Religious control of sex education harms children

Position Paper

Background

Since 1981, the federal government has allocated more than $1 billion for abstinence-only-until marriage programs throughout the nation. President Obama’s 2010 budget has zeroed out funding for two abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education programs making it clear that he wants no more congressional funding for failed abstinence-only programs. In its place, President Obama’s budget has created a new $173 million program called the “Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative.” This program would allow states to receive money to teach teens about contraception, preventing STDs/HIV and avoiding unwanted pregnancies. Seventy-five million in funds from the teen pregnancy prevention initiative would support proven teen pregnancy prevention programs and 25% of funds would be available for "promising models." The Secular Coalition for America is concerned that abstinence programs considered “promising models” could continue to receive funding under this new initiative.

In April 2007, the results of a Congressionally-mandated five-year study on the effectiveness of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs found that students who took part in abstinence-only programs were just as likely to have sex as those students who did not participate in these programs. This trend was the same with regard to the age at which students first had sex and the number of sexual partners. This report clearly demonstrates that abstinence-only programs are ineffective.

Before President Obama’s budget was released, millions of federal dollars had been offered to states that agree to teach a strict abstinence-only education program. However, as of 2009, twenty-five states have opted out of receiving Title V abstinence-education funding which requires that schools use a stringent eight-point definition of "abstinence-only education." This eight-point definition prohibits programs from advocating contraceptive use or discussing contraceptive methods except to emphasize their failure rates.

Abstinence-only programs provide false and misleading information

In addition to being ineffective, government-funded abstinence-only-until-marriage education curricula do more than simply leave out information on safe sex. Many of these programs contain false and misleading "medical" statements and teach religious propaganda and theologically driven gender stereotypes to our children.

In March 2008, researchers at the University of Washington set out to compare the sexual health risk of adolescents who have received various types of sexuality education. Though a number of recent studies have evaluated specific programs, this research focused for the first time on the adolescent population as a whole.

The results of the study confirmed that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are not effective in changing young people's sexual behavior or preventing negative outcomes such as sexually transmitted diseases or teen pregnancy. More importantly, however, it confirmed that that programs that teach young people about abstinence and contraception/disease prevention, are, in fact, effective.

In particular, the authors found that receiving information about birth control in formal sex education was associated with a 50% lower risk of teen pregnancy when compared to receiving information only on abstinence. It also confirmed that talking to young people about birth control does not lead to increased sexual activity or higher STD rates, as many critics of comprehensive sexuality education continue to claim.

Federal funding of abstinence programs leads to religious indoctrination

Millions of dollars were annually allocated to religious and evangelical groups. Nearly all the educational programs used by these groups proselytize to teens.  Below is just a small sampling of religious organizations that received federal abstinence-only education funds. Full details of all funding recipients per state can be found online at http://www.siecus.org/policy/states/index.html.

Arkansas
Tree of Life Preventative Health Maintenance, Inc.: $512,500
According to its website, this faith-based organization works under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Colorado
Life Network: $402,700
Their mission statement: "Life Network is a sanctity of human life ministry that impacts and transforms people with the love of Christ." On its website, Life Network states that it “exists to enforce the value placed on human life by our Creator, from conception to natural death. We desire to reclaim the fact that our individual worth is firmly established on the basis of the nature of God, who has left his impression on us.” Some of the organization’s main objectives include “actively representing and presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ;” “providing positive alternative choices to abortion with the specific goal of preserving the lives of the unborn;” “actively heightening awareness of the sacredness of human life through our prevention, intervention, restoration and education out-reaches;” and “encouraging, equipping and partnering with the local body of Christ to promote sexual integrity, the value of human life and restoration of the family unit.”

Georgia
Stand Up Again Outreach: $84,824
Stand Up Again Outreach’s mission is to “provide solutions that counteract issues that are keeping individuals from reaching their God given destiny.

Kentucky
Women for Life: $550,000
Women for Life is a faith-based organization that “exists to help women and girls in unexpected pregnancy situations by sharing Christ’s grace and unconditional love.”

Louisiana
Louisiana Governor's Program on Abstinence (GPA): $1,283,563 
In a letter to the GPA in 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) identified numerous violations of a 2002 settlement regarding the program's promotion of religion. Much of the information that the ACLU commented on in its 2004 complaint remains up on GPA’s website, including the advice suggesting that a young woman stays “ ‘cool’ in God’s eyes.

Michigan
Wedgewood Christian Services: $403,601 
A "distinctly Christian, professionally excellent community of caring, dedicated to helping young people live productive and fulfilling lives. For more than 45 years, we've been extending God's love to children, adults, and families through professional services that promote healing and wholeness."

New Jersey
Several Sources Foundation: $775,951
Their website states, "The basic premise of our Chastity Program is that all of us are God's loving creations; that He has created us in His own image."

Tennessee
Life Choices, Inc.: $534,339
Their website says it provides "a non-judgemental and Christ-like environment to educate and empower women to make life-affirming decisions." This state-licensed adoption agency requires couples be "active members of the same local Bible-believing church" and they must sign anti-choice statements before qualifying as adoptive parents.

For a quick factsheet, click here.


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