Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Clergy Ask White House to End Federal Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs

Contact: Tim Palmer
(914) 438-4127

WESTPORT, CT, March 11, 2009 - The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality,
Justice, and Healing today called on the Obama Administration to end federal
funding for abstinence-only programs and commit to comprehensive sexuality
education in the nation's public schools.

"We urge you to help bring an end to sex education programs 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," 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
U.S. religious community. A majority of mainline Protestant clergy support
comprehensive sex education programs 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 $1.5 billion in grant programs
supporting abstinence-only education programs, despite growing evidence of
the ineffectiveness of these programs. In 2007, an evaluation funded by the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed that youth enrolled in
abstinence-only education programs were no more likely than other youth to
delay sexual initiation, have fewer sexual partners or abstain entirely from

"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," Rev. 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 web site,

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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