One of the many problems with injecting religious beliefs or organizations into government policy is that they often don’t work.
Forget the ethics of public money going toward matters of personal faith, the legality of trying to pretend the First Amendment doesn’t apply “in this case,” the wisdom of basing government policy on beliefs not backed up by facts – too often, faith-based policies just aren’t effective.
Take abstinence-only sex education, for example. That there is something morally wrong with sex outside marriage, independent of any other circumstances or conditions, is a matter of opinion and personal religious beliefs. It’s a valid opinion to hold, but it’s not the only one.
In many high schools across the country, abstinence-only sex education is the only kind of sex ed taught. But the reason for its popularity can’t be its usefulness, because it doesn’t have any.
As far as the “education” part goes, a report was given recently to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform. It reviewed 13 of the most common abstinence-only sex education curricula in high schools. Eleven of them “contain false, misleading or distorted information about reproductive health.”
Some of the examples of this are lesson plans that take gender roles which would have seemed old-fashioned in the 1950s and treat them as scientific fact, lesson plans with just plain bad science-one claims that sperm and ova each have 24 chromosomes, not 23-and lesson plans that makes the famous claim that HIV can be spread through sweat and tears. It can’t.
And there are failures on the “abstinence-only” side too. According to a study by the Texas Department of Health, the percentage of ninth-grade boys who claim they’ve had sex before and after abstinence-only sex education jumps from 24 percent to 39 percent.
And when they finally do have sex, they’re less likely to use protection than those who have had comprehensive sex education, according to a Columbia University study.
The President’s proposed 2006 budget would increase the funding of abstinence-only sex ed to $209 million, an increase of $39 million.
Now, why is he doing this? Is it because he thinks these programs actually work? Well, someone should explain to him there’s a difference between “abstinence” and “abstinence education.” The first works, the second obviously doesn’t.
Maybe he just hasn’t seen these numbers. This is the president who’s proud of not reading the newspaper, after all. He’s pioneered faith-based initiatives in many other areas – why should he let the facts bother him in this one?
Levesque can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.