Teaching Fear

A. Early Opposition

Opposition to sexuality education goes back as far as the 1960s. And while the goal of censoring comprehensive sexuality education has remained constant, the approach and rhetoric have evolved over the years. From the late 1960s until the early 1980s, critics of sexuality education focused their efforts on attacking all such programs in the public schools, with the goal of removing them from the curriculum.

In the earliest challenges, political groups called the programs "smut," "immoral," and "destructive of religious belief." The Christian Crusade published a pamphlet titled "Is the Little Red School House the Place to Teach Raw Sex?" The John Birch Society went so far as to claim that sexuality education was a "filthy Communist plot." Other charges aimed at sexuality education: its purpose was to "undermine the morals of American youth"; it promoted pornography, should not be taught without also teaching religious morality, and such instruction should be left to the family.

These accusations resulted in some successes in the curtailment of sex education programs in the late 1960s. During that period, the National Education Association documented 13 states in which communities restricted their sex education programs in response to pressure, 20 state legislatures that considered bills investigating or restricting sex education programs, six states in which groups used the legal system to restrict sex education, and two state boards of education that opposed sex education materials.

In the late 1970s, groups opposed to sexuality education shifted to a more modulated opposition, led by Phyllis Schlafly and her Eagle Forum. Rather than citing it as a Communist plot to take over young American minds, Schlafly's more down-to-earth rhetoric charged that sexuality education encouraged sexual activity, promoted teenage pregnancy, advocated abortion, and lacked a moral base. For example, in 1981 she wrote in her monthly newsletter:

The major goal of nearly all sex education curricula being taught in the schools is to teach teenagers (and sometimes children) how to enjoy fornication without having a baby and without feeling guilty. This goal explains why the courses promote an acceptance of sexual behavior that does not produce a baby, such as homosexuality and masturbation. This goal explains why they encourage abortions and all varieties of contraception....This is why the courses shred [sic] the girls of their natural modesty....This is why they censor out from sex education courses both moral training and the truth about the physical and psychological penalties for sin.

In 1984, Schlafly took yet another tack, claiming erroneously that sexuality education programs violated the Hatch Amendment, which prohibits schools from doing psychological testing of students or using experimental materials in federally funded programs without parental consent. Schlafly stated that, "All across the country, classroom courses masquerading as sex education are in fact violating the letter and spirit of the law." (Ironically, that is the very charge now being levelled against the abstinence-only programs that Schlafly so strongly supports.)

In addition to Phyllis Schlafly and Eagle Forum, other groups pushing for the removal of sexuality education from public schools in the early 1980s were Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and Beverly LaHaye's Concerned Women for America (CWA).

The Moral Majority pushed to ban sex education programs in public schools if the programs did not require parental consent. The group also opposed sex education programs "which reject Judeo-Christian rules" or which hint at "liberal sex education."

CWA's LaHaye wrote this of sex education: "Something must be done to stop it and now, before it's too late!" She went on to say, "My major concern about the teaching of sex education in the public schools is that it is taught humanistically, without traditional moral values and respect for social norms." In a direct mail letter, LaHaye wrote, "We just cannot go on allowing the values of millions of young people to be shaped and corrupted by the humanistic sex education programs now in the public schools."

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