Wednesday, May 18, 2005

 

No religion here

Aka, "No sex, please, we're Christian."
ACLU suit sees religious content in abstinence plan

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in federal court in Boston yesterday challenging the US government's funding of a faith-based abstinence program called the Silver Ring Thing, arguing that the public contribution of more than $1 million violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

The nationwide initiative, which has held four events in the Boston area since 2002 and is planning more, urges middle school and high school students to forgo premarital sex and buy silver rings to symbolize their vow of abstinence. The three-hour events have drawn tens of thousands of young people since the program began 10 years ago.

In its suit against the US Department of Health and Human Services, the ACLU contends that the program's primary aim is to spread Christianity. The civil libertarian group cites several pieces of evidence, including a Silver Ring Thing newsletter that says the Pennsylvania-based ministry instructs young people that "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ [is] the best way to live a sexually pure life."

"Federal tax dollars are clearly underwriting religious indoctrination," said Julie Sternberg, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, which prepared the suit. The federal government can fund faith-based programs that perform social services, Sternberg said, but it cannot bankroll activities that explicitly promote a religion.

Denny Pattyn, the founder of the Silver Ring Thing, said in a statement that his group's goal is to teach adolescents about the risks of sex, including teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The organization, he said, believes it is using its federal dollars properly. Pattyn did not return several phone calls yesterday.

Nikki Dingle, a 19-year-old freshman at Salem State College, attended a gathering held at Merrimack College. Partway through the event, she said, organizers allowed the young people to participate in two group discussions about chastity -- one rooted in Christian values, which she participated in; the other that had no religious theme.

The ACLU acknowledges in its suit that Pattyn, who leads the events, allows teenagers to participate in the secular discussion group. But the ACLU, some of whose members attended a Silver Ring Thing event at Gordon College in Wenham in September, alleges that young people feel pressured to participate in the religious discussion -- those who want to participate in the secular discussion, for example, have to switch rooms, while the religion-based discussion group can stay in their seats, the suit says. The ACLU contends federal money funds both the secular and religious presentations.

The ACLU also notes that the silver rings that youngsters buy for $15 are inscribed with a reference to a verse from the New Testament that says, in part, ''God wants you to be holy, so you should keep clear of all sexual sin." Adolescents who buy the ring also receive a Bible.

Pattyn, according to the suit, is also executive director of the John Guest Evangelistic Team, an evangelistic ministry based in Sewickley, Pa., that IRS records show has the same address and federal tax identification number as the Silver Ring Thing. The federal money, according to the suit, helps fund salaries and benefits for the Silver Ring Thing staff, along with stage equipment and transportation of program officials to events.

A study released in March in the Journal of Adolescent Health indicated that young adults who took virginity pledges as teens were as likely to be infected with sexually transmitted diseases as those who did not. The study by two sociology professors -- one at Yale, another at Columbia -- said people who make the pledge generally have fewer sex partners, start having sex later, and marry earlier. But they are less likely to use condoms and more likely to experiment with oral and anal sex.
And, therefore, more likely to divorce earlier, too. But hey, we'll just make 'em sign up for "covenant marriages" which is all we need to take care of the divorce problem, right?

There's nothing wrong with abstinence, in theory. Teenagers want to have sex, but they also want to drink, drive, and do other adult things when they're way too young, too. The problem with abstinence is, for the Christian right wing, that's where sex begins and ends in their minds for teenagers. You shouldn't do it, therefore, you shouldn't talk about it, either.

But what happens if you do do it? Christian right wingers have no answer. If you don't want to get sick or pregnant, be pure and holy and you won't get sick or pregnant. And that's true. But that's their answer to everything. Don't want to be gay-bashed? Don't be gay. Don't want to be mocked or harrassed at the Air Force Academy for not being an evangelical? Don't not be an evangelical (I suppose).

Kids are going to have sex, whether we like it or not. There's no way to turn off all those surging hormones. I think we should be teaching teenagers how to be responsible, not telling them, "Just say no."

In any case, the Silver Ring Thing may be effective. But it is also clearly intended to do more than just promote virginity; I don't see how anyone can deny that it has a strong secondary goal of promoting Christianity. There's nothing wrong with that, as long as they do it with their own money.
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Comments: "
Cool blog you have. I have a for love or money related site. Check it out if you get a chance. The URL is for love or money
 
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I have a great article resource you might want to check out.
 
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