Congress should have abstained from abstinence funding in stimulus package

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is blasting a $40 million allocation for “abstinence-only” education programs slipped into the stimulus package passed by the Senate and expected to be approved by the House on Friday. 

Formally titled the “extension of sexual risk avoidance education program,” section 3821 funds “abstinence-only education programs favored by social conservatives,” as the New York Times puts it. In plain language, this means that our federal government is putting another $40 million in  the service of useless, religious nonsense. The funding currently extends through November, which could also make this an election issue.

“What makes this especially absurd is that public schools are mostly closed, with no end in sight,” says FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor. “What a waste of resources when our hospitals and brave medical personnel are without adequate personal protection equipment, adequate supply of ventilators and adequate number of coronavirus tests.” Gaylor calls it a “boondoggle” that panders to President Trump’s evangelical base.

Abstinence-only programs are rooted in conservative religion, promoted by Christian Nationalists, and do not work. These ignorance-inducing curricula are not only ineffective, but also unpopular. A recent survey showed that “98 percent of likely voters support sex education in high school, and 89 percent of likely voters support sex education in middle school — in stark contrast to the Trump-Pence administration’s push for abstinence-only programs.” This funding extension flouts the will of the American people, in addition to being demonstrably ineffective.

“Abstinence-only means anti-science and anti-reality,” says FFRF co-president Dan Barker. “These programs don’t educate children, they keep them ignorant and that puts them at risk. Ironically, the ‘ab-only’ crusaders help to cause the abortions they denounce. We need comprehensive sex education.”

One positive note is that there appears to have been a political trade for the abstinence-only funding, and funding for “sex education programs that provide information about birth control and safe sex, which are supported by reproductive rights groups” was also extended. This helps mitigate some of the damage done via the abstinence-only provision.

Congress and the Trump administration need to stop propitiating the Religious Right and ensure that only fact-based programs are being funded by tax dollars.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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