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Wisconsin DA threatens charges over sex education

By J. DeVoy

The District Attorney for Juneau County, Wisconsin, has threatened to bring charges against teachers who inform students of reproductive options other than abstinence.  Scott Southworth – whom you can contact here – wrote a letter to Juneau County’s teachers, warning them of the consequences for following a law requiring them to discuss condoms and contraceptives.

“If a teacher instructs any student aged 16 or younger how to utilize contraceptives under circumstances where the teacher knows the child is engaging in sexual activity with another child – or even where the ‘natural and probable consequences’ of the teacher’s instruction is to cause that child to engage in sexual intercourse with a child – that teacher can be charged under this statute [of contributing to the delinquency of a minor]”

In the Journal-Sentinel’s piece on this, Southworth offered some unsurprising tidbits about himself.

“If I’d wanted to be ideological, I would have said in the letter you shouldn’t have sex before marriage because that’s the Christian perspective. I’m an evangelical,” Southworth said.

While perhaps not ideological, the way some people want to push all forms of sexual education other than abstinence out of the classroom certainly is partisan.  Liberals and moderates doubt the causal link that Southworth and his ilk see in presenting information about condoms and increased fornication.  In fact, his position is pretty dumb, as abstinence-only education has coincided with increased teen pregnancy for as long as such data is available.

Normally, someone threatening to prosecute teachers would have me doing a happy dance.  Education majors have lower GRE scores than their peers; from what I see on facebook among those my age, they also seem more prone to simplistic thinking.  In this case, however, the First Amendment is at stake, especially as it applies to something as important as sex education.  Here, Wisconsin has enacted a responsible law that requires sex education to include information about condoms and other contraceptives.  Not only is it unfair to put teachers in a double bind like this – required by the legislature to do one thing, and potentially punished by the executive if they do – it impedes their ability to be honest with students about protecting themselves.  While threatening to prosecute teachers for voluntary speech is intolerable, doing so for statutorily compelled speech is unconscionable.

Finally, it’s hard to believe sex education is so contentious of an issue.  Normally, it’s a brief film and 30 minute presentation that’s never spoken again.  My Catholic elementary school taught us about condoms in the fifth grade; no parents complained, and we’re all miraculously alive today.  Also, who is having so much sex in high school that makes condoms and contraceptives such a heated issue?  It surely wasn’t me or any of my friends, but thumbs up to anyone who was pulling it off, especially in our all-male high school.  The real issue is our sexualized society, where sex isn’t just in porn, but wedged inartfully into most advertisements and the bourgeois mainstream “culture” peddled by ABC, NBC, CBS, MTV and Fox.  Even if mainstream culture’s debasement is undesirable, and many elements of it are, taking a puritanical stance in response to it is counterproductive.

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