Sex, Sin, and Social Policy: Religion and the Politics of Abstinence-Only Programs

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Book Chapter

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Fundamentalism, Politics, and the Law


As the only industrialized country to legislate and federally fund abstinence-only-until-marriage programs as social policy, the United States stands out. It also stands out as the only industrialized country still embroiled in a debate over whether creationism should be taught in public schools. These two issues help reveal the dynamic interplay between religion and politics in the United States, and the role and power of conservative religious groups in shaping domestic and foreign policy, especially as it relates to education, reproductive and sexual health, and family issues. While evangelicals represent only 25 percent of the U.S. population, their influence on social policy has been significant. The recent court case in Dover, Pennsylvania (Tammy Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District et al. 2005 WL 578974 [MD Pa. 2005]) over the teaching of evolution and intelligent design and legal actions involving abstinence-only programs reveal the cultural and legal wars being waged over the role of science and religion. Conservative Christians have, in part, achieved their agenda by applying the brakes on research, education, and funding that could reduce the rates of teen pregnancy, birth, and abortion that are higher in the United States than any other industrialized country. This chapter outlines some of the court cases involving sexuality education but focuses primarily on the content, con­troversies, and consequences of abstinence-only approaches.


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