Religious Right political attacks on comprehensive sexuality education represent only one element of the movement's challenge to public schools. This larger anti-public education agenda includes opposition to such widespread programs as multicultural curricula, standardized testing, self esteem programs, and educational reforms. In addition, national Religious Right political groups have their own pro-active goals for the schools, including organized school prayer, and vouchers that allow parents to get public funding to send their children to private schools. These organizations are frequently involved in attempts to censor school books and materials for religious or ideological reasons. And, most significantly, they are gaining control of local school boards around the country, often using "stealth" campaigns to hide their candidates' true affiliation or views.
While it is only one piece of the puzzle, the assault on sexuality education has grown to constitute a central and requisite component of the Right's overall attack on public schools. These groups have devoted considerable time, energy and resources to defeating comprehensive programs. They have been somewhat successful in getting programs such as Sex Respect and the Teen Aid programs adopted in schools around the country, particularly, as noted above, in schools where they hold a majority on the school board.
Pat Robertson, founder of the Chesapeake, Virginia-based Christian Coalition, sums up the Right's larger vision of a liberal transformation of society:
The school authorities are putting the entire weight of the government in favor of more premarital sex...That is the absolute game plan of the ultra-liberal radical left. They have a game plan to desensitize children to this entire thing...They say, do everything you can do, everything you can possibly get away with, boys with boys, boys with girls, girls with girls, girls with boys, whatever, as much as you can, and if you have a baby, kill it. I mean, that's the whole concept of the radical left. It is the most bizarre thing. But the goal is to undermine society.Among the many political groups that are working to undermine sexuality education, four national organizations stand out. These groups, Eagle Forum, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America and Citizens for Excellence in Education, are making an aggressive effort to publicize, market, and implement abstinence-only programs around the country.
Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum continues to be one of the most vocal opponents of comprehensive sexuality education and one of the strongest advocates for abstinence-only programs. Founded in 1972 in Alton, Illinois, Eagle Forum has opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion rights, funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, federal support for daycare and family leave, HIV/AIDS education, and self-esteem programs in public schools.
Eagle Forum characterizes opponents of abstinence-only curricula as "ACLU-type[s]." It further alleges that groups like Planned Parenthood know that abstinence courses are successful, but ignore this proof because it is a threat to their livelihood, a reference to that organization's abortion-related services.
After lending her support to the development of programs such as Sex Respect and the Teen Aid curricula, Schlafly worked to implement these fear-based programs in schools around the country. In the June 1986 issue of The Phyllis Schlafly Report, she introduced her support for a "new course," Sex Respect, that teaches teens to "say `no' to sex before marriage." Since then, almost every issue of Eagle Forum's monthly magazine, Education Reporter, has had an article that extols these programs' success and their support among teachers and students. Other issues of the Reporter have attempted to debunk comprehensive curricula, asserting that condoms do not protect against HIV/AIDS, and that "studies" have proven that information provided on contraception promotes pre-marital sex.
In 1987, Eagle Forum took on a leadership role in the abstinence-only movement with the formation of the Coalition for Teen Health. The Coalition was established to battle what Eagle Forum discerned as a "large-scale propaganda campaign to teach schoolchildren -- even in grade school! -- how to use condoms for `casual' heterosexual and homosexual sex." Led by Schlafly, the Coalition challenged then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to revise his earlier remarks about safe sex and condom use and to advise all teens to remain abstinent until marriage. Other members of the Coalition included the Conservative Caucus, Coalition for America, American Life League, and Kathleen Sullivan's Committee on the Status of Women.
Using its grassroots muscle, Eagle Forum launched a large-scale lobbying campaign called "Operation Teenage Health," that sought to push through state legislation. The sweeping goals included: mandatory teaching of abstinence in public schools; prohibition of public school medical facilities that could dispense contraceptives and make abortion referrals; the requirement that a copy of all public school textbooks be placed in local public libraries; mandatory blood tests for HIV before marriage licenses are issued; and mandatory regular testing for HIV/AIDS and for all illegal drugs for persons in "sensitive" jobs. The coalition has had little success in achieving these goals.
Focus on the Family, a national anti-gay, anti-choice organization based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has been another powerful force in promoting fear-based curricula. Focus on the Family was founded in 1977 by Dr. James C. Dobson, a psychologist who has called sex the "hydrogen bomb that permits the destruction of things as they are and a simultaneous reconstruction of the new order."
Focus on the Family has been an outspoken and direct opponent of comprehensive sex education, primarily through paid advertisements and videos. In April 1992, Focus On the Family began placing "In Defense of a Little Virginity," a full-page print advertisement calling safe sex a myth and urging abstinence. By June 1993, Focus on the Family was claiming that the ad had run in 1,000 papers in North America. The ad claims that "pro-abstinence messages are drowned out in a sea of toxic teen-sex-is-inevitable-use-a-condom propaganda from `safe-sex' professionals." The ad attacks sexuality educators, calling them "`safe-sex' gurus and condom promoters" whose "ideas have failed," and declares that "it is time to rethink their bankrupt policies." The ad also attacks the federal government, contending without documentation that it has spent billions of dollars since 1970 to promote the ideas of contraception and safe sex, sending "your tax dollars down...that drain."
In early 1993, Focus on the Family released a video called "Sex, Lies...and the Truth." Dobson, who is featured in the video, claims that condoms fail 15 percent of the time when preventing pregnancy, and states (erroneously) that failure rates in HIV/AIDS prevention would be even higher, since women can only get pregnant on one day a month and diseases can be contracted 31 days per month. His allegations are directly refuted by studies issued by the Centers for Disease Control, which show that when used consistently and correctly, intact condoms can protect against HIV with a failure rate of only one percent. In addition to misrepresenting the facts, the video uses a mixture of images based on fear and seduction, presenting sex as a ride through the House of Horrors in an amusement park followed by gruesome scenes and discussions of AIDS deaths.
Concerned Women for America was founded in 1979 by Beverly LaHaye. The group is virulently opposed to gay rights, abortion rights, National Endowment for the Arts funding, and self-esteem programs in school. CWA, based in Washington, D.C., is strongly opposed to comprehensive sexuality education, condom distribution in schools, and any discussion of homosexuality as acceptable or normal.
Since the late 1980s, CWA has published its own abstinence-only curriculum Families, Decision-Making and Human Development, written by Terrance Olson and Christopher Wallace, which has a bias against contraception, abortion and lesbians and gay men. Like the Teen Aid programs and Sex Respect, it links sexuality to fear and shame. The curriculum states that "Sexual irresponsibility always produces negative consequences for relationships," and defines "irresponsible" sexuality as sexual behavior outside of marriage. In discussing the methods of transmitting HIV/AIDS, the curriculum breaks transmission into two categories "voluntary," defined as IV drug use and sexual intercourse, and "involuntary," defined as blood transfusion, medical exposure, and perinatal infection. In addition, the curriculum states that "[T]he male and female sexual organs are obviously designed to accept each other. Thus, heterosexual relationships are normal and homosexual ones are not."
CWA led the effort to defeat Dr. Joycelyn Elders' nomination for U.S. Surgeon General, portraying her as having "extremist views," "sex-crazed policies," and a "pro-promiscuity agenda." Because President Clinton nominated Elders, he too was characterized as pushing for "mandatory `valueless' sex education and pro-promiscuity programs in public schools." Besides attacking Clinton's nominee for Surgeon General, CWA also fought to "aggressively expos[e] the pro-promiscuity policies" of Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and Education Secretary Richard Riley. According to LaHaye, "They want dangerous new `medical services' programs in our public schools, including abortion counseling, mandatory sex education, and condom distribution."
To counteract this perceived threat, CWA created a video entitled "Wait For Me," which stresses the importance of abstinence and "the sanctity of marriage." Beverly LaHaye and her husband, Tim LaHaye, also wrote a book, Against the Tide, to serve as a "practical parenting blueprint to help parents and grandparents raise children who are responsible morally and pure sexually." LaHaye writes, "Our goal is to show parents and grandparents how to give children the facts about sex before the world gives them fiction..." Tim LaHaye also works to promote the use of a "virtue ring" that parents would give to their child after asking them to pledge abstinence until marriage.
Founded in 1983 and led by Dr. Robert L. Simonds, the Costa Mesa, California-based Citizens for Excellence in Education advocates the "Christianizing" of public education. Simonds' strategies include challenging books, educational materials and curricula in the public schools. He declares that if we do not reform the public schools, "children's faith in God will be subtly destroyed" and "children will be subjected to the negative messages of current sex activities."
Local CEE chapters around the country work to get abstinence-only programs in schools. In the CEE Chapter Manual, "How to Help Your School Be A Winner!," author Eric Buehrer suggests two "good" sex education programs, Teen Aid and Sex Respect, which chapters should try to get adopted in their local school districts.
CEE argues that comprehensive sexuality education is part of an effort to recruit children into homosexuality. Simonds writes, "an overemphasis on AIDS teaching opens the door to homosexual/lesbian recruitment of children in the classroom." Simonds dramatically warns of the threat of homosexual recruitment in an impassioned plea for money from his supporters:
[T]he gay rights movement is sweeping our nation's schools...Students are told it is a normal acceptable life-style and that they can't criticize it because they don't know until they try it...Children have been lied to and then RECRUITED into the homosexual/lesbian life-style...Public school programs like `Project 10,' `Children of the Rainbow' and `Project 21' are some of the many programs of homosexual/lesbianism promotion and recruitment...It's Sodom and Gomorrah all over again. Will we wait until our society is engulfed in homosexuality/lesbianism and AIDS, or stop it now?
CEE also argues that the idea of "safe sex" is an oxymoron. Vice President of CEE (and Simonds' daughter), Kathi Hudson, calls Joycelyn Elders the "leading advocate of school-based clinics and condomania." She cites a recent study by researchers at the University of Texas that she says found that condoms are not effective in preventing transmission of the HIV virus, claiming that condoms leave teens an 18-50% chance of contracting HIV/AIDS. As noted above, Centers for Disease Control studies discredit this assertion.
Citing from a 1992 study to elaborate on this theory, Simonds reports:
Children are taught that condoms will prevent sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS infection -- allowing safe sex. Yet the condom manufacturers themselves claim a high failure rate of 12-40 percent. Even worse, scientists tell us that the best condoms have microscopic holes of five microns in diameter, while the AIDS virus is only .1 of one micron in diameter. That makes the condom hole 50 times larger than the AIDS virus. Such `safe sex' teaching is condemning our children to death by AIDS.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, laboratory studies have shown that latex condoms provide a continuous barrier to micro-organisms as well as sperm. The study relied on by Simonds to argue that the "holes" in condoms are larger than the HIV virus is one that was conducted using not condoms but latex surgical gloves which are made differently than condoms. In addition, glove standards have now been changed. This particular misconception, however, continues to turn up in school board debates across the country.
Simonds goes further than many even on the Right, invoking frightening scenarios of societal transformation. He writes:
[S]exologists and psycho-heresy mind manipulators (so-called experts) are not experts at all....The enemies of faith and God's church are many. They promote immorality instead of what could otherwise be good sex-education programs.....They (ACLU) believe in teaching homosexuality/lesbianism in place of man/woman marriage. Not only would they like to destroy families, but the entire human race, with such ideas -- irrational, sick ideas that our schools often go along with...Remember, it strongly appears we are dealing with hard-line atheists, incapable of reason or morality.
Simonds argues that comprehensive sexuality education programs are detrimental to the health of teens. He alleges, "It has always been known that corrupt sex-education programs that promote early childhood sex, abortions, homosexuality and lesbianism as a normal, desirable life-style, will destroy our children's happiness, innocence, health and their futures." Claiming to speak for all of us, he writes, "All moral Americans have consistently said, `it is wrong to teach children that immoral sexual behaviors are all right.'"