State Sued over ‘Abstinence'

photo

Brigitte Amiri (pictured), an attorney for the ACLU, and Don Thompson, executive director of the Department of Human Services, were featured in a documentary about the May abstinence-until-marriage summit that promoted religion on the taxpayer's dime.

In an effort to stop taxpayers from funding religious events, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in federal court last week against the Mississippi Department of Human Services for promoting religion at its annual abstinence-only-until-marriage summit this year.

The ACLU and other plaintiffs say the May 16, 2009 summit titled "Abstinence Works: Let's Talk About It" contained religious messages, gospel music and prayer at the state-funded event for the second year in a row.

"At the 2008 summit, there was also religious evocation," Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, told the Jackson Free Press. "After that summit we became aware of the entanglement and asked the state to provide documents for how they selected speaker and performers. When we learned they selected the speakers, we sent a letter asking that the 2009 summit be secular, and we never received a response back."

Amiri says the event is unconstitutional because it violates the establishment clause in the First Amendment that calls for the separation of church and state.

Two residents and a student are also involved as plaintiffs in the suit. A.T., a 17-year-old student at Jim High School who attended the summit, said he felt the message was skewed. He asked that only his initials be used.

"There was talk based on the Ten Commandments, and we were told that God said to abstain from sex," he says. "There was a group that did praise dances, and the abstinence message from the speaker was very religious."

In a press release, the ACLU claimed that Adams County Judge John Hudson led a discussion linking pre-martial sex to the Ten Commandments, and prayers and performances from the worship group the Pilgrim Rest Mime Ministry.

MDHS declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing the pending litigation.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood will have 20 days to file a written response to the complaint. Amiri said the ACLU's goal is to ultimately have the federal court issue order against the Department of Human Services to end the use of religion at state-funded events and return any federal tax dollars that may have been used to fund the summit.

The ACLU is also using the lawsuit to speak out against abstinence.

"We are concerned with abstinence-only-until-marriage because study after study shows that this does not work," Amiri says. "The government should give needs the tools they need. We are concerned with the program in general because of the alienation to the LBGT community, and the content often has a lot of gender bias."

Amiri explained that the curriculum used often excludes the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender community because of the program's requirement of waiting to have sex until marriage which is not an option for many gay and lesbian couples.

In 2007 and 2008 the MDHS received $1,428,753 each year for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, yet a study from the Centers for Disease Control found that Mississippi ranked as the highest state for teen pregnancy in the nation with 68 teen births for every 1,000 putting the state 60 percent higher than the national average. Mississippi also had the highest rates of gonorrhea infections in 2006 and 2007.

JFP Index
Mississippi Sexual Health: How is Abstinence-only Working?

Overall rate of teen pregnancy in Mississippi: 103
Overall rate* of teen pregnancy in the U.S.: 84
Rate of African American teen pregnancy in Mississippi: 139
Rate of non-Hispanic white teen pregnancy in Mississippi: 72
Black Mississippi teens who have had sex by age 13: 19
Black U.S. teens who have had sex by age 13: 16
White Mississippi teens who have had sex by age 13: 7 per 1,000
White U.S. teens who have had sex by age 13: 4 per 1,000

*(rates per 1,000); all numbers from 2007
Sources: Centers for Disease Control; The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Previous Comments

ID
151965
Comment

"We are concerned with abstinence-only-until-marriage because study after study shows that this does not work," Amiri says. "The government should give needs the tools they need. We are concerned with the program in general because of the alienation to the LBGT community, and the content often has a lot of gender bias." Amiri explained that the curriculum used often excludes the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender community because of the program's requirement of waiting to have sex until marriage which is not an option for many gay and lesbian couples. Yes! Finally bringing this to light in a manner conducive to action. I was very surprised to learn about this rally, and I feel good that someone is going to do something about it.

Author
Izzy
Date
2009-09-16T13:09:21-06:00
ID
151967
Comment

This is a very sensitive issue for a whole lot of folks; however, for me it is simple. Abstinence only until married DOES NOT WORK. Many of the people promoting this idea are being hypocritical because they too had sex before, during and after marriage. The ACLU should be suing because the message it gives is without the arm of how to protect yourself - just in case the answer is yes. Mississippi has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. Warren Co. had the highest per 1,000 capital rate of teen pregnancy in the whole USA. When you couple this with HIV/AIDS victims and other sexually transmitted diseases, you would think that our one and a half million dollars given to DHS yearly could be better spent. Read my lips: It ain't working!

Author
justjess
Date
2009-09-16T13:20:17-06:00
ID
151969
Comment

Gimme a freaking break, "Abstinence doesn't work????" It works every time. What doesn't work is sleeping with anything that moves... and that has been proven to cause pregnancy. As far as the "alternative lifestyle communities" out there, abstinence works there too. People make choices, and to say that they can't take responsibility and abstain from sex undermines laws on the books prohibiting said acts between certain age groups, and adultery.

Author
commonsense
Date
2009-09-16T13:26:35-06:00
ID
151970
Comment

By any measure, the state's sex education program is a disgraceful failure. I posted ACLU video of this rally in May, and it is clear from the video that the rally was essentially a church service. The children of Mississippi can walk into any church on any Sunday to hear the sort of sermon the rally offered. School events must offer real educational content, to help students understand how human reproduction works. Each has its proper place. They have no business mixing. Finally, I would like to express one more time what a travesty it is to teach students that they should wait until marriage to have sex, because nearly all adults have sex before marriage. Kids hate hypocrisy, and it will make them shut out the rest of the message. We should tell students to wait until they are adults to have sex. That message is honest.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2009-09-16T13:26:55-06:00
ID
151972
Comment

Justless- While I agree that kids need to be taught more than just abstainance, how does abstinence not work? You don't have sex you don't get pregnant or a sexually transmitted disease, plain and simple. So it does work if they would follow that.

Author
BubbaT
Date
2009-09-16T13:34:10-06:00
ID
151973
Comment

Just had a discussion with our school's principal about this. Apparently the abstinence program is not really abstinence only and hey, the cost does not come out of the school's budget and in addition, it has been so wonderful in the past few years. This school also conducts prayers before honor roll programs and has a christian athlete's club. Looks like Mississippi has the perfect storm conditions for teen pregnancy - poverty, low education and religious conviction.

Author
RhinosMom
Date
2009-09-16T13:37:50-06:00
ID
151974
Comment

...and to add to your message Brian, Adult and responsible. Also, that having sex should not mean having babies - unless you are ready for them.

Author
justjess
Date
2009-09-16T13:39:19-06:00
ID
151976
Comment

Real funny BubbaT. I think you like messing with me. LOL! When I say Abstinence doesn't work, I simply mean that the methadology is not being practiced. The majority of the kids are not going to "Just Say No."

Author
justjess
Date
2009-09-16T13:45:59-06:00
ID
151979
Comment

Bubba T: The idea of abstinence alone would be sound if the nature of humans was not to give in to temptations. If abstinence of committing acts was plausible, we would not need laws. It is a good thing to try not to do something that you should not, but the fact is, the nature of people is to constantly fight that.

Author
Goldenae
Date
2009-09-16T13:52:16-06:00
ID
151982
Comment

Sometimes ;) Your right some kids are not going to "Just Say No", having an 19yr old daughter who talks with us about everything, there are more that do, than more that don't in her group of friends, but that is probably going to change since they are all in college away from home now. Abstinence should be taught by the parents first along with other things, then re-enforced by teaching it in schools as part of a comprehensive sex ed program, not as abstinence till marriage but like you said abstinence until adult and responsible.

Author
BubbaT
Date
2009-09-16T14:04:24-06:00
ID
151984
Comment

Thanks BubbaT. Finally we agree on something!

Author
justjess
Date
2009-09-16T14:13:51-06:00
ID
151985
Comment

Mississippi's message of abstinence is completely unbalanced & distorted, and that's why the teen pregnancy and STD statistics are completely unbalanced. If they promoted a fair and balanced message of abstinence, along with safe sex and pre-cautions, we might not be having this conversation. I give my kids both sides of the coin, and try to give them factual information with the following warning: God wants you to wait,and its best that you wait, but just in case you don't wait, cover it up. And Bubba T, unfortunately alot of kids don't have parents that talk to them about anything until its too late. So kids need access to balanced and accurate information that will empower them to make good decisions rather than horrible mistakes that can impact their entire future.

Author
lanier77
Date
2009-09-16T14:54:32-06:00
ID
151986
Comment

This is Obama's fault, just like everything else. He must have let the terrorists in from his native state of Kenyanistan to brainwash our Christian children into having sex and reading the Koran. Next the terrorists will be teaching at our schools! When will you wake up America?! 9/11! Support the troops! Bill Ayers!! Guns! Fox News!

Author
DrumminD21311
Date
2009-09-16T14:54:32-06:00
ID
151987
Comment

WHAT! You have got to be kidding. Mississippi has had the highest teen pregnancy rates for years - this just didn't happen. Who is this guy?

Author
lanier77
Date
2009-09-16T14:56:31-06:00
ID
151989
Comment

DrumminD21311==Parody Troll

Author
Pilgrim
Date
2009-09-16T15:15:00-06:00
ID
151992
Comment

I think it's also Obama's fault that the stock market is up today. - just kidding. But seriously, how nice to see the discussion on this topic taking a moderate road. That's what many tough issues require. Facts. Information. Common sense. The ideal - with a big dose of reality as well.

Author
Izzy
Date
2009-09-16T16:01:52-06:00
ID
151995
Comment

Abstinence works, but abstinence-only education is a proven failure. There is much research that discredits abstinence-only education. It is opposed by the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the Society for Adolescent Medicine, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others. Fortunately, President Obama and the Democratic Congress are replacing funding for abstinence-only education with abstinence and safe sex education. From here on out, if the state wants to hold a religious revival for students who desperately need real sex education, that child abuse will have to come out of state funds. The Texan has left the White House.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2009-09-16T17:51:49-06:00
ID
152001
Comment

There was a great article written by a woman named Kate Royals on the huffington post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sexual-justice/god-and-abstinence_b_213462.html, about this exact event. I feel that the real issue here isn't whether or not abstinence education works, because most of us agree that it isn't effective, but that a state funded event was delivering a religious message. They must allow attendees to pray on their own, but they cannot lead them in prayer. I feel MDHS knew exactly what they were doing, and that it completely violates the first amendment.

Author
Ryan
Date
2009-09-17T08:10:27-06:00
ID
152004
Comment

Kate's piece on abstinence also ran here in the JFP, Ryan. She's a former JFP intern, and hopefully is going to do more columns for us.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-09-17T08:59:33-06:00
ID
152027
Comment

Abstinence does work. The problem is that no one is teaching it. Hence, there is a tremendous need. Just look at the numbers. The numbers of pregnant teens,high std rates, etc further justifies the need for abstinence education. Parents are not teaching abstinence, the media obviously isnt teaching it. Where is a child going to learn abstinence if they don't attend church. Abstinence my friends, is not a bad thing. Studies show that public education doesnt work, but surely we all agree that it is needed. Ms. Amiri is out of touch with what really works.

Author
Principalman
Date
2009-09-18T07:44:29-06:00
ID
152031
Comment

Teaching a teen about abstinence without teaching them the reality of the biological consequences of every choice/option they have will not drive home the reality of risk. You are asking them to make one of the most important decisions they can make without giving them facts to help them get clear on the consequences. Parents are often in denial of their young adult's sexuality and because of that young adults will often lie to parents and tell them what they want to hear.

Author
Izzy
Date
2009-09-18T09:51:10-06:00
ID
152039
Comment

WHAT???? Principalman, abstinence is not being taught? It was taught to you, to your friends, to your friends friends, to me and to everyone I know. I would venture to say that great grandparents, grandparents, moms and dads taught us that you should not have sex until you are married. Many relatives scared the "s" out of young folks, especially male children. They were told that certain body part would swell and fall off. Don't laugh; this is true. What is not being taught is how to protect yourself from all of the things you mentioned to include HIV/AIDS, pregnancy and other unwanted complications. Dr.Joycelyn Elders, the Surgeon General under former President Bill Clinton was on to something. She was 20 years ahead of her time and Mr. Clinton fired her for her cutting-edge methods of dealing with sexual urges in youngsters. The world will have to do something as it relates to taking care of yourself and I'm afraid that we have alread seen the results of "Just Say NO."

Author
justjess
Date
2009-09-18T10:52:38-06:00
ID
152041
Comment

"Abstinence does work. The problem is that no one is teaching it." Your right. But be aware that the ACLU's concern isn't with the teaching of abstinence, it's with "abstinence only until marriage."("We are concerned with abstinence-only-until-marriage because...") Abstinence-only-until-marriage may work in theory, but the reality is: how do you take into account human nature in teaching it? The answer is to teach abstinence as the best option, yet still teach teens how to practice safe sex should they choose to do so. Maybe you can find more from this fantastic article: http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/index.php/site/comments/abstinence_only_doesnt_work/, and here: http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/EA2007/EA2007_full.pdf "Parents are not teaching abstinence, the media obviously isn't teaching it." Are you implying that you expect the media to overtake the role of the parent and teach children about sex? Can you imagine Rupert Murdoch telling your child how not to have sex? That's a scary thought... "Studies show that public education doesnt work, but..." What studies are you talking about? Are you familiar with the Flynn Effect? Its a study which shows an overall increase in I.Q. levels. James Flynn, in an interview with the L.A. Times, stated that the increase can be partly attributed to, you guessed it, better education!(it's in a list along with better nutrition and a more scientific mindset; "goggles" I think he called them) High school graduation rates are up 6% in Mississippi from 2000 to 2006 and 8% for the country as a whole.(according to the National Center for Education Statistics http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d08/tables/dt08_011.asp) College graduation percentages are up as well.

Author
Ryan
Date
2009-09-18T11:15:26-06:00
ID
152053
Comment

justjess, you are out of touch with the real world. Parents are not teaching abstinence anymore. I work with thousands of teens and the response is always the same, "that's old fashioned". No one instills the importance of purity anymore. No one attempts to scare children anymore, I am 34 yrs old, come from a teenage mom, who told me to "wrap it up". She never taught me abstinence. My friends werent taught abstinence. We came up in a generation of sex, drugs, rap music. I thought it was normal. Those who came up in the 60's and 70's were probably mislead but certainly those of us who came up in the 80's and 90's can attest to this. I believe in education certainly but abstinence works.

Author
Principalman
Date
2009-09-18T12:05:33-06:00
ID
152056
Comment

Ryan,what I am saying is that the kids listen more to the media than any other source. While I don't expect the media to teach kids abstinence education, they certainly do a good job of promoting sex.(In the name of free speech!) Telling your kid not to have sex, then saying if you do, heres how to use a condom is like saying don't steal my car but if you do, here's a set of keys. Oh, we shouldnt tell kids that stealing is wrong, we shouldnt tell kids that sex before marriage is wrong? WOW, this age of moral relativism is why the STD Rate, teen pregancy rate, etc is off the chain. Educating kids about having protected sex is a band aid to more prevalent problems. A LACK OF MORALS!

Author
Principalman
Date
2009-09-18T12:22:21-06:00
ID
152057
Comment

What studies are you talking about? Are you familiar with the Flynn Effect? Its a study which shows an overall increase in I.Q. levels. James Flynn, in an interview with the L.A. Times, stated that the increase can be partly attributed to, you guessed it, better education!(it's in a list along with better nutrition and a more scientific mindset; "goggles" I think he called them) High school graduation rates are up 6% in Mississippi from 2000 to 2006 and 8% for the country as a whole. College graduation percentages Well, I agree that a better educated society is good for everyone. But the emphasis was on "public education waste". Not education in general. Of course IQs rise when one is better educated. Higher graduation rates, when all variables considered doesnt equate to higher IQS. With your logic, I can attribute the higher std's and teen pregnancy to the good education system that you mentioned. The kids sure are learning at an alarming rate!

Author
Principalman
Date
2009-09-18T12:34:37-06:00
ID
152060
Comment

Ryan, The ACLU's position is plainly stated in the article: “Amiri says the event is unconstitutional because it violates the establishment clause in the First Amendment that calls for the separation of church and state.” The effectiveness of 'Abstinence-Only' education programs, or lack thereof, is not the issue. If the Baptist Convention wanted to recruit teenagers from churches throughout the state and invite them to a similar program paid for by them at First Baptist Church, they could preach abstinence and purity until they are blue in the face, for all that I care and for all the good that it will do. However, state/school officials cannot thump the bible to a captive audience of school children, particularly on the federal government's dime!

Author
Macedonian
Date
2009-09-18T12:46:24-06:00
ID
152070
Comment

Principalman, everyone would agree that stealing is wrong, but many people would disagree that sex before marriage is wrong. In fact, if we look at how most American adults actually behave, they do not think there is anything immoral about two consenting adults having sex, especially if they are prepared to take responsibility for the consequences. The claim that sex before marriage is wrong is essentially religious, not moral. There is a difference between the two. For example, the Bible forbids worshiping any deity but God. However, from a social perspective, there is nothing immoral about being a Hindu and worshiping many gods. In our country, we have decided that religious questions are best left to individuals. But we are still free to restrict immoral behavior such as murder and theft. When it comes to sex education, many people would rather promote a religious view (sex should only occur between married individuals) than a moral view (sex should only occur between responsible adults). Perhaps this is why DHS saw nothing wrong with holding a church service instead of an educational session. Mississippi is among the most religious states, and it has the highest teen pregnancy rate, despite years of abstinence-only education. Yet somehow, you think the answer is more religion?

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2009-09-18T14:44:41-06:00
ID
152071
Comment

We can work on the issue of "morality" and often with great success; however, We are so very limited in what we can do to manage life for a child who sexually contracts AIDS. We can work on the issue of "morality" and often with great success; however, we are so very limited in what we can do to manage the life of a child having a child.

Author
justjess
Date
2009-09-18T15:05:25-06:00
ID
152073
Comment

Brian C. Johnson, your comments in your last post should be heard all over the world. Your piece is priceless. GREAT commentary. I feel you.

Author
justjess
Date
2009-09-18T15:17:10-06:00
ID
152101
Comment

I am glad to see so many people are aware abstinance-only education does NOT work! Above everything, the teens being taught abstinance-only are human. Those who do not comply with abstinance-only are not bad teens, they simply do not know how to handle their newly raging hormones and need some honest education. To not educate teens on both abstinance and safe sex is a grave injustice to the teens, both straight and gay. The fact that Mississippi's incidence and prevelance rate for HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy and other STD's is so high, is due to parents not willing to be honest with/about their children. If the parents cannot have an honest conversation at home, at least allow an honest conversation at school. To ask teens to simply abstain without explaination is asking teens to not be human. I would like to thank the ACLU for bringing this situation to light!

Author
Bob Lowery
Date
2009-09-18T22:08:38-06:00
ID
152106
Comment

Brian not so fast. First of all, those of us that believe sex before marriage is morally wrong certainly hold single adults to the same standard. We base our morals on the teachings of Christ. I don't know what you base your "stealing is wrong" on. You can attempt to separate stealing, murder, homosexuallity, polytheism, rape, etc. but we don't. They are all immoral and fundamentally wrong.(according to us there is a right and a wrong and we actually have something to base it on). Second.Being the most religous state only asserts that we have the most people per capita that believes in a god, not GOD Himself.Our teen pregnancy rate is higher because we are poorer(no money to pay for abortions) less educated(academia), lack of abortion clinics,and immoral. We are backwards as a state, with more immoral people per capita than New York City. Being the most "religous" state in a coutry that has fallen away from "the cheif cornerstone" is no achievement. Our lack of resources in combination with racism, sexism, apathy, will only produce more babies if we teach kids how to have "safe sex"

Author
Principalman
Date
2009-09-19T10:26:23-06:00
ID
152112
Comment

Principalman, as I do not know Brian, I do not presume to speak for him. However, I would like to point out that humanists very often derive their principles from what is known as the Platinum Rule which was taught by Confucius, among countless others: "Do not impose on others what you do not desire others to impose upon you." It is a negative form of the Golden Rule that many profess to believe, but it covers so much more territory. So, it is easy to see where prohibitions against murder, rape and theft can be justified. I think that morality fits quite nicely as well!

Author
Macedonian
Date
2009-09-19T15:24:15-06:00
ID
152115
Comment

Principalman, I'm curious: Are you a school principal?

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-09-19T16:00:00-06:00
ID
152116
Comment

Principalman, first, Christian "morality" is not at question here. What is being questioned is the legality of the DHS event—which was, in essence, a church service—using federal dollars. That is what the ACLU suit, and the story, is about. As to your assertions about the "whys" of our state's high teen pregnancy and STD rates, and the results of teaching safe sex, research has proven those assertions wrong. Providing kids with biologically sound and comprehensive sex education lowers pregnancy and STD rates. Restricting their knowledge to abstinence-only instruction does nothing to stem either rate. As to racism, sexism and apathy, none of those things cause people to have sex, and neither does giving people accurate information about how to protect themselves from pregnancy and STDs. What you're saying simply is not true. I have no idea what "chief cornerstone" you're talking about. If you think it's Christianity, I suggest you read up on your history. The Founding Fathers were clear about the separation of church and state, and overwhelmingly meant for this nation to be secular. To wit, America has no official religion and the Constitution expressly forbids Congress to establish one. (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...) Neither do Christians have the corner on the belief that irresponsible sex (along with a host of other acts) are not correct behavior. In the history of the world, however, people were having sex long before what we know today as "marriage." In earlier Christian societies, the wedding was frequently the result of pregnancy or childbirth to ensure the legitimacy (and inheritance rights) of children. "Marriage" was a process of spiritual joining that began with a betrothal and ended with a wedding (and a contract)—usually with a whole lot of sex in between. The belief that sex before walking down the aisle is a sin (and "immoral") is a modern one. It has nothing to do with morals, however, and everything to do with theology and law.

Author
Ronni_Mott
Date
2009-09-19T16:10:18-06:00
ID
152126
Comment

The one thing that Ronni forgot to add: The U.S. Constitution forbids the "establishment" of one religion by the government for the precise reason that it is the *only* way to protect religious freedom and the power to worship as you please, regardless of what religion (or lack of) is in vogue at the time. Why, oh why, is this so hard for so many people to understand? When the ACLU sues over a situation like this, the purpose is to protect your, and your family's, right to worship as you choose. *That* is a primary principle this nation was built on, if not *the* principle.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-09-19T17:28:38-06:00
ID
152137
Comment

How many think that they have a right to vote for president or that English is our official language? People just do not understand the Constitution or the Republic, and that goes for both sides. So many that have posted have deflected from the central (church/state) issue in order to gain the 'moral high ground' in the discussion. Welcome to a microcosm of the US political system right here at the JFP!

Author
Macedonian
Date
2009-09-19T19:28:29-06:00
ID
152152
Comment

Macedonian, I agree with you in principal; however, during the last administration, there was an aggressive emeshment of Church and State and now, there are many people who think that this is the way of the Constitution and the Republic and that it is the way IT SHOULD BE. Government, in my opinion, participated too stronly in faith-based initiatives. Many of the Churchs continue to reap the benifit of federal dollars. Many have as their mission the promotion of myopic religious dogma relative only to their beliefs. These groups have become a very strong and vocal political force and I don't know what can happen to ensure the seperation of church and state. Many people view the ACLU as trouble-makers and agitators.

Author
justjess
Date
2009-09-21T09:03:46-06:00

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