Alex Blaze

Religion: Part of the Real-life Abstinence-only Curriculum

Filed By Alex Blaze | March 03, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: abstinence only education, Focus on the Family, protestantism, public schools, religious right, schools, sex, sex ed, study, Texas

To jesus handout.JPGthe right is an actual worksheet used in a Texas public school district as part of an abstinence-only education program. (Click to enlarge)

While the the religious handout isn't a state-wide standard, it's far from alone. According to the Wiley and Wilson study I blogged about yesterday, 9.5% of Texas public school districts are using religion to teach sexual education.

The study is the largest ever done on the way abstinence-only programs are actually implemented. It was a broad examination of various abstinence-only curricula in Texas, the state that receives the more federal money for abstinence-only than any other state. This is part 2 of my week-long series unpacking this study on Bilerico. Part 1 was on homophobia in abstinence-only education.

More on religion in public schools, taught with federal tax money, often coming from political Religious Right organizations like Focus on the Family, after the jump.

According to Wiley and Wilson, all references to religion in sex ed programs are Christian, and mostly fundamentalist Protestant to boot. This isn't much of a surprise, considering that Christians dominate all other faiths when it comes to expression in the public sphere, no matter how much they pretend to be oppressed. And the biggest advocate for abstinence-only in schools is the Religious Right.

Which makes sense, considering that they prepare the materials used in many of these programs. True Love Waits and Focus on the Family send/sell explicitly religious material to more than a handful of Texas school districts, referencing "God's will" and engaging in long discussions of Scripture.

Not only is this illegal, teaching religion in public schools doesn't do anything to help minority religion students. (Although if they ignore this garbage they're probably better off than their Christian counterparts.) But it also only makes it harder these students to feel comfortable in school. What are they supposed to think when a teacher is handing out a worksheet calling them "lost"?

But religion in public schools isn't about making students better people (judging from these programs) or making them more comfortable. It's about letting everyone know, without ambiguity, who's in charge and who's not.. It gives the Christian students the very mistaken impression that they should control everything around them, that they in fact are oppressed by even the appearance of non-Christianity around them, which they'll carry into adulthood. And it teaches minority religion students to keep quiet about their faiths or lack-of-faiths and sit on the sidelines.

One abstinence-only program makes no bones about being Christian:

Materials used by this program read more like Sunday school lessons than a course on sexuality education. Hardly a page can be found that does not include multiple references to Bible verses, invocation of Christian principles, even attempts to proselytize students with the Christian plan of salvation.

The "Resources" portion of the Wonderful Days Web site (which the program touts as a key component of student instructional materials) gives the following advice to young people:

We can be born again of The Almighty Himself. We then take on His character with all of its resultant self-control, benefits, and great responsibility. You will be amazed when the "sperm" of His Spirit connects with the "ovum/egg" of your spirit and you become a "new person" with His character. How? Read about it in your Bible:

John 1:12: But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of Yahweh, even to those who believe in His name.

Romans 3:23: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of Yahweh.

Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of Yahweh is eternal life in Messiah Yahshua our Lord.

John 3:16: For Yahweh so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Romans 10:9-10: that if you confess with your mouth Yahshua as Lord, and believe in your heart that Yahweh raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

Wait... the "sperm of His Spirit" and the "ovum/egg" of my spirit connect to give me self-control? Ummmmmmm... sounds like that contradicts the Establishment Clause for all the right reasons.

This wasn't the only program that quoted Scripture right at teens to get them to keep their genitals in their pants. Other programs were infused with religion, some quoting all sorts of passages from the Bible, one even having a Q & A section about what the Bible says about sex.

Other schools just used materials developed by national Religious Right organizations, including Focus on the Family and True Love Waits:

Some of the religious materials that districts provided in response to our request are produced by large, national abstinence-only programs, religious advocacy organizations
or conservative Christian denominations. The Why kNOw? curriculum (used in 20 Texas school districts), for instance, contains numerous references to religion and religious organizations, even quoting a scriptural passage from the New Testament (1 Corinthians 13:4).

We also discovered that 18 districts around the state utilize videos or curricular
materials produced or distributed by the conservative Christian advocacy group Focus on the Family, known for its involvement in "culture war" political issues and its Christian child-rearing materials.Districts sometimes refer students to resources produced by specific Christian denominations, as in Elkhart ISD, where students are Finding 6: Some Texas classrooms mix religious instruction and Bible study into sexuality education programs. this finding authored by Ryan Valentine, TFNEF deputy director
40 Sexuality Education in Texas Public Schools referred to the Web site

I'm not at all surprised that Focus on the Family is getting money and exposure out of this, considering how hard they lobby for abstinence-only education. What's the point of advocating for junk science to be taught in schools if you can't make a few bucks off it?

That's what a lot of people are apparently thinking when it comes to abstinence-only in Texas. While lots of schools don't use explicitly religious teaching materials, they get guest speakers who speak from a religious perspective. While many local clergy come to schools to talk about sexuality, here are a few of the bigger names on the circuit:

  • Jason Evert - "full-time apologist* with Catholic Answers, the nation's largest lay-run apostolate for apologetics and evangelization."207 (Lindsay, Bay City, Alvin and Flour Bluff ISDs)
  • Terri McLaughlin - education coordinator for the faith-based anti-abortion lobbying group Texans for Life208 (Boles ISD)
  • Lyndy Phillips - identified by district as a Christian motivational speaker; ordained minister and served over 13 years as a full-time youth and associate pastor.209 (Channing ISD)
  • David Crain - Christian musician and speaker: "As a speaker, David's message is always delivered in a way that entertains while drawing the listener into a deeper relationship with Christ."210 (Grape Creek ISD)

I sure hope they're all having a grand ol' time there in the Lone Star State making money while spreading the Gospel. Because Texas has the third-highest teen pregnancy rate - 1 in 11 teens can expect to be or have been pregnant by age 18. The state also has "a population of young people who rate well above national averages on virtually every published statistic involving sexual risk-taking behaviors."

But what's the fun of letting a few facts like that ruin the party?

Read more on real abstinence-only programs:

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As a clergy person in a non-mainstream religion who also works as a Interfaith Chaplain this really bothers me.
I remember when I was a kid and I was living in a little farming community and I was paddled for refusing to say a Christian prayer in the mornings. I also remember that I had to wait to get my lunch tray until all of the other kids, who had said grace, had been served and were seated and only then could I get my food which left me very little time to actually eat.
I did go to school in Texas as a kid so I'm not surprised, just troubled.
I am glad that it is less than 10% at this point in that State. It is illegal and should be challenged. Public schools should be neutral in matters of conscience.

I went to a high school in the suburbs of Houston, and we definitely had a sex-ed assembly with one of these Christian speakers. He preached about the wonders of "secondary virginity," told us that condoms are so thin that semen passes through them, and then went off on a tangent about Satan. It still pisses me off to think that none of the teachers/administrators stepped in to correct that bullshit.

Oh, and another speaker made five girls stand up from the bleachers and told them that statistically one of them was going to get raped. Classy.

Yeah, we're a class act in Texas for sure.

If I remember my Texas history correctly, many of the early "settlers" were scum of the earth dirtbags looking for a safe haven from law, order, and the lynchmob's noose. So how in the hell did we turn respectable? Is it: "The most virtuous-sounding woman in the room is the ex-prostitute"?

The Texas Legislature is meeting now. Maybe I can get my representative to submit a bill exporting these beacons of enlightenment to other states -- Colorado or Indiana maybe. I understand that those states have plenty of problems, and maybe our saviors can save them.

You don't have to look very hard at Texas Gov. Perry, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, and the Texas Lege to realize that progressive thinking and legislation is not openly embraced and supported by those with the power to decide a bill's fate. We may be fighting for state "change we can believe in" here, but those changes won't be coming soon to Texas.

[For the record: I was welcomed and treated nice by the mostly conservative group at Saturday's townhall meeting with my state rep. Some Texans may have hair on their teeth, but they are not all barbarians.]

I'm glad I'm typing my response, because my jaw is on the floor, leaving me otherwise speechless.

I am a Christian woman who takes my faith seriously, and I cannot believe what I'm seeing. This sort of infiltration of faith into a secular setting is unconscionable. To make you follow my standards of faith is to set myself up as God. It is no more correct than legislating Buddhist standards or Muslim standards; it has no place in public life except as one chooses to express one's faith. These children have not been given a choice.

Our daughter ended up in a sex ed class a couple of years ago that referenced Jesus and "proper" sexuality. We raised holy hell and the program (and teacher) was dropped.

A. J. Lopp | March 3, 2009 1:57 PM

I am amazed that no group of parents have contacted the ACLU in Texas and mounted a challenge to all this --- the speakers might take a bit of audio- and video-taping, but the materials that are in writing would seem to make this a slam-dunk.

If people who value science and/or church/state separation form court challenges regarding "intelligent design" in biology class, then why do they not challenge the religion-oriented messages in sex ed class?

P.S. And how much of this relates to the fact that our 41st and 43rd US presidents were from Texas, and their campaigns were bankrolled in large part by the Religious Right?

1. Life can be difficult for those who oppose the Religious Right local leadership, particularly if the police are inclined to look the other way. Death threats have been made in such situations where school prayer has been challenged.

2.God's "sperm of His Spirit" and my "egg of my spirit" - ewwwwwww. I can't think of anything more off-putting.

3. Texas Religious Right advocacy at the level of school curricula and school boards has been around for at least 30 years. Texas has statewide textbook purchases, and if it ain't OKed for use in Texas, some 10% or more of the textbook market, it's not going to be published. This one couple has been running the textbook approval committee for some 30 years, and they may be the most important non-corporate people in US book publishing.