CAT | Church & State
Garrett Mize is the Youth Advocacy Coordinator at the Texas Freedom Network and heads up TFN’s Youth Leadership Council, the Texas portion of Advocates for Youth’s Cultural Advocacy and Mobilization Initiative. Garrett writes below about Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s tortured defense of abstinence-only sex education programs.
“It worked for me,” is essentially all that our governor could half-jokingly mutter about the statewide failure of his abstinence-only sex education policy when grilled by the editor-in-chief of the Texas Tribune.
Gov. Rick Perry, who is currently running for president, has been in office since George W. Bush left the Governor’s Mansion back in 2000 (after his own election to the presidency). Gov. Perry is currently the longest-serving governor in Texas history. Unfortunately, this also means his policies on sex education are also the longest-serving in Texas.
The Texas Department of State Health Services recently drafted an application for $4.4 million in federal funding for comprehensive, evidence-based sex education (including information on both the importance of abstinence and contraception) for young people in Texas public schools. This shows us that public health professionals are ready for a change from failed abstinence-only policies that dominate instruction in most Texas public school districts, but their hands are tied by a far-right, ideological executive branch. The Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner, Tom Suehs (a Perry appointee), decided along with the governor’s office that the state should not do this. Instead, Texas applied for (and is receiving) federal Title V abstinence-only funding yet again, even though abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have not been shown to be effective.
Keep in mind that Texas has long led the nation in federal abstinence-only funding, yet we have the third highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation and the highest rate of multiple births to teens (teens who have given birth at least twice). Texas also has the third highest rate of HIV infections among young people. The human toll of failed abstinence-only programs is very serious and very high.
Over a 13-year period, teen births are estimated to have cost Texas taxpayers $15.1 billion. That’s billion with a “b.” That’s a little over a billion dollars in spending per year on teen births, yet most Texas schools — with the support of Gov. Perry — do not teach comprehensive, evidence-based sex education. Comprehensive sex education would be fiscally responsible and is scientifically proven to reduce the public costs associated with teen pregnancy and rates of sexually transmitted infections (STI). Gov. Perry can call himself a fiscal conservative all he wants, but that label couldn’t be further from the truth.
Perry peddles the falsehood that teaching young people about how to protect themselves would simply encourage them to have sex. In reality, young people who receive comprehensive sex ed are actually more like to abstain from sex longer and delay onset of sexual activity and make responsible decisions regarding their health when compared to students who only received abstinence-only. Therefore, if the goal of conservatives truly is to encourage sexual abstinence, you would think they would support comprehensive sex ed. This makes it clear that folks like Perry are more interested in scoring cheap political points rather than supporting programs that actually work. But he’s even wrong on the politics; 80% of Texans support comprehensive sex education, including information about condoms.
I’m not sure whether Gov. Perry actually believes in abstinence-only or not. His smug reply in the video indicates that he may be simply trying to evade a tough question about his record. What’s odd is that he doesn’t even seem to know how to talk about this issue. He seems to be pretty ignorant of the facts, the buzz words or even a coherent conservative argument. Maybe he’s “playing politics” and simply appealing to his base – who knows? Either way, he is playing politics with the health and well being of young people in Texas — and it’s costly, dangerous politics.
Recently I was able to meet the Reverend Barry Lynn. He is the Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. It was his appearances in the media and leadership of this organization that helped me to decide to do the work that I do today. It was an honor to meet him and it is good to know that there are intelligent, passionate people like the Rev. Barry Lynn who are working everyday to support our religious liberties.
President Obama recognizes our religious diversity and believes it is a strength. “For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and Non-Believers.”
Kennedy also recognized the importance of the separation of church and state – and he eloquently and ardently defended it. I encourage you to watch this video of him, speaking before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in 1960. As a Catholic candidate for president, and eventually the first Catholic president, he was charged with having allegiances to the Church that would inappropriately influence his policy objectives. He cited his deep understanding and support of the separation of church and state as the reason why this would not happen.
The term “separation of church and state” was coined by Thomas Jefferson in a letter he wrote to the Danbury Baptists. Later he went on to author the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment. At that time, Baptists were a religious minority that often had their rights infringed upon by the state-sponsorship of particular Christian denominations. Today, there are still a number of Baptist churches that honor their traditional stance of supporting the separation of church and state.