US clergy call for an end to abstinence-only sex education

By agency reporter
March 11, 2009

The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing has called on the US administration to end federal funding for abstinence-only programmess and commit to comprehensive sexuality education in the nation's public schools.

"We urge you to help bring an end to sex education programmes that fail our young people, and to renew our national commitment to education that honors truth, respects diverse values, and prepares our young people to lead healthy and productive lives," the Rev Debra W. Haffner, director of the Religious Institute, said in a letter to President Obama.

The Religious Institute also announced that more than 925 ordained clergy and national religious leaders have endorsed its Open Letter to Religious Leaders about Sex Education, urging policy makers, school officials and educators to provide comprehensive sexuality education that complements the guidance young people receive from their parents and faith communities.

The Open Letter states in part: "Young people need help in order to develop their capacity for moral discernment and a freely informed conscience. Education that respects and empowers young people has more integrity than education based on incomplete information, fear, and shame. Programs that teach abstinence exclusively and withhold information about pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease prevention fail our young people."

The signatories of the Open Letter are part of a growing movement in the US religious community. A majority of mainline Protestant clergy support comprehensive sex education programmes in public schools, according to a national survey released last week by Public Religion Research.

At least 10 faith traditions and the National Council of Churches of Christ have policies supporting sexuality education in schools. And more than 15 denominations and faith-based organizations are part of the National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education.

The federal government has invested more than US$1.5 billion in grant programmes supporting abstinence-only education programmes, despite growing evidence of the ineffectiveness of these programs. In 2007, an evaluation funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services showed that youth enrolled in abstinence-only education programmes were no more likely than other youth to delay sexual initiation, have fewer sexual partners or abstain entirely from sex.

"As religious leaders, we believe there are strong moral foundations for giving our young people the information they need to make responsible decisions about their sexuality," Ms Haffner said.

"Education that is age-appropriate, accurate and truthful is the best way to assure that teenagers will make moral and healthy decisions."

The Open Letter to Religious Leaders about Sex Education, list of signatories and the Religious Institute's letter to President Obama are all available on the Religious Institute's website,

The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, based in Westport, CT, is a nonprofit, multifaith organization dedicated to advocating for sexual health, education and justice in faith communities and society. More than 4,400 clergy, seminary presidents and deans, theologians, scholars and religious leaders representing more than 50 faith traditions are part of the Religious Institute's national network.

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