Respectfully submitted by Lawrence Rafferty (rafflaw)- Guest Blogger
As one who was taught by Benedictine nuns in a Catholic elementary school, I grew up with some strange and possibly severe restrictions on what the nuns called “mixing” the boys and girls. More recently, when my adult children were in school, the Diocese of Rockford forbade Altar boys being on the altar at the same time as Altar girls! With that background, I thought I had seen it all. However, the State of Tennessee has just beaten that sorry record of over restrictive rules for school children. It seems that Tennessee state senators, in their infinite wisdom have updated their already suspect abstinence based sex education law by suggesting that holding hands is a gateway to sex.
“Last week, the Senate passed SB 3310, a bill to update the state’s abstinence-based sex education curriculum to define holding hands and kissing as “gateway sexual activities.” Just one senator voted against the legislation; 28 voted in favor. Since the bill specifically bans teachers from “demonstrating gateway sexual activity”, educators would be prohibited from even demonstrating what hand-holding is.” Truth Progress
I understand the concept of abstinence only programs. The nuns were in favor of that idea, and it worked as badly in the 1960′s as it does now. “In a new family life instructions bill, holding hands and kissing could be considered gateways to sex. Planned Parenthood said that allowing state government to define local sex education curriculum could backfire. According to a 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Study, 61 percent of Memphis City high school students and 27 percent of middle school students have had sex. That’s higher than the national average. Planned Parenthood said these numbers are why a new sex education bill promoting abstinence is not realistic.” WMC-TV
As I understand it, the State Senate of Tennessee has an ongoing problem with high school and middle school students having sex. Their educated response to this problem is to claim that holding hands is a dirty and dangerous act that could lead to dire sexual health consequences. Under this proposed legislation, a teacher could be subject to a direct lawsuit from parents if the instructor goes beyond this draconian curriculum. Do these State Senators have any idea what is happening in the real world? The numbers quoted by the Memphis TV station above suggest that the State Senate should be happy if all the students are doing is hand holding. Could the respective religious beliefs of these State Senators be guiding their legislative hands?
Just how successful are these abstinence only programs? One George Mason University article in December 2006 discussed claims that any reduction in teen pregnancy rates is far and away due to contraception and not abstinence. “A new study has shown that contraception, not abstinence, is behind declines in teen pregnancy. Researchers from Columbia University and the Guttmacher Institute took a nation-wide look at why it is that teen pregnancy rates are down. In 1995, there were just under 100 pregnancies for every 1,000 teenage women age 15-19, according to the Guttmacher Institute (the figures vary slightly among the three major sources for teen pregnancy rates – the Guttmacher Institute, the National Center for Health Statistics, and the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion). By 2002, this had gone down to just over 75 per 1,000. According to the new study, 86 percent of the decline is attributable to the use of contraception, while only 14 percent is attributable to abstinence. Abstinence has only contributed to a small percentage of the overall decline, and none for teens aged 18-19. For those ages 15-17, abstinence was responsible for about 23 percent of the decline, according to the study published in the American Journal of Public Health.” stats.org
When the Tennessee House representatives take up the Senate bill, I hope that they look beyond religion and realize that the teen pregnancy problem won’t be solved by burying their heads in the sand. A sex education program designed by educational experts and not Bishops, can have a positive impact on teen pregnancy. Outlawing teachers from actually talking about the real issues could defeat what the legislators are trying to accomplish. However, since Tennessee just passed a law allowing creationism to be taught alongside evolution, I am not holding my breath that the legislature in Tennessee will do the right thing.
Do you think religion is getting in the way of proper education principles and methods? Are the state representatives pandering to a particular segment of their citizens rather than suggesting and promoting valid, scientific methods to address the problem at hand? What do you think?