Abstaining from Ethics While Imposing Morality

Scott Swenson

The pious moralizing of social conservatives grates on the national psyche, its hypocrisy evident for all to see. But it's the ethics of social conservatives sucking tax dollars from public health programs and personally profiting from them that causes concern. Congressional leaders should not just redirect federal monies from failed abstinence-only programs to proven public health strategies, they should investigate thoroughly, for they are likely to find Corruption, with a capital C, and that rhymes with T, and that stands for Trouble.

Last week, Rewire wrote about the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA), and its affiliation with Creative Research Concepts (CRC), makers of the Swift Boat ads in 2004. The team looks to intimidate policy makers with threats of aggressive lobbying and public relations campaigns, in the genre CRC redefined, smear and fear.

Today, we take a closer look at the leadership of NAEA, a group that has profited from personal connections, public appointments, and the publishing of half-truths. These stories are known individually, but weaving them together underscores the illegitimacy of the billion dollar abstinence-only program and calls into question the ethics of those who preach morality, and teach nothing proven, at taxpayer expense.

The pious moralizing of social conservatives grates on the national psyche, its hypocrisy evident for all to see. But it's the ethics of social conservatives sucking tax dollars from public health programs and personally profiting from them that causes concern. Congressional leaders should not just redirect federal monies from failed abstinence-only programs to proven public health strategies, they should investigate thoroughly, for they are likely to find Corruption, with a capital C, and that rhymes with T, and that stands for Trouble.

Last week, Rewire wrote about the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA), and its affiliation with Creative Research Concepts (CRC), makers of the Swift Boat ads in 2004. The team looks to intimidate policy makers with threats of aggressive lobbying and public relations campaigns, in the genre CRC redefined, smear and fear.

Today, we take a closer look at the leadership of NAEA, a group that has profited from personal connections, public appointments, and the publishing of half-truths. These stories are known individually, but weaving them together underscores the illegitimacy of the billion dollar abstinence-only program and calls into question the ethics of those who preach morality, and teach nothing proven, at taxpayer expense.

Valerie Huber, Executive Director, NAEA

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Abstinence-only programs she ran in Ohio contained "false or misleading information about abortion, contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases" so stated a study done by Case Western Reserve University Department of Public Health. According to Hypothetically Speaking, a bio of Huber states: "[her] program is still in its infancy, giving Valerie the unique opportunity to develop and fine-tune it. Valerie is infusing her Christian beliefs into this program."

It's just that some people's beliefs, Christian and otherwise, start with truth telling and respect for freedom of religion; they believe that is what kids should be taught and how government should be run. Huber is not a public health expert, but an outraged mom who started a program after her son's health teacher advised kids to use condoms if they were having sex. She parlayed her outrage into an abstinence-only program and was then appointed to a state job in the Ohio Department of Health by former Gov. Bob Taft (R-OH).

As the supervisor of the Ohio Department of Health's abstinence-only program, Huber attempted to secure a state contract for a company she was involved in. She was suspended by the department in 2006 when she was found guilty of ethics violations. Huber was represented by an attorney with ties to the Ohio Republican Party and the heir to the corrupt Taft regime, failed gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell, as reported in the Ohio newspaper, the Gay People's Chronicle.

Bruce Cook, Board Director

Like Valerie Huber, Cook was caught with his hands in the cookie jar. As the Chairman of the Georgia State Department of Human Resources he used his public position to promote his private business, the abstinence-only program Choosing the Best.

While serving the citizens of Georgia, Cook cut funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs, closing 39 centers that provided services in an effort to replace them with just five that taught abstinence-only. He also cut family planning funding that left 64,000 women without services, while he worked to create wealth for himself.

Cook, however, argued the cuts targeted prevention programs that don't show "measurable results"—despite data showing lower teen pregnancy rates in counties with teen health centers.

According to Creative Loafing:

Some of the teen centers handed out condoms, and because Cook is known as an outspoken evangelical Christian who earns a living publishing abstinence-only educational materials, many DHR insiders saw the move as an attempt to impose his own far-right ideological agenda on public health policy.

Then, in October 2004, Cook appeared at a DHR-funded conference on abstinence education, where he touted his own book and promoted the programs offered by his for-profit company, Choosing the Best.

Around the same time, the DHR board decided to keep the teen centers open but mandated that at least half of their educational content adhere to strict, abstinence-only guidelines. Only after CL reported the potential windfall for Cook's business did he announce he would no longer sell materials to DHR subsidiaries. Cook's company had been criticized in a national study for providing misleading health information, such as exaggerating failure rates for condoms.

Anne Badgley, Board Director

Anne Badgley started the abstinence-only program Heritage in South Carolina, and was a fundraiser for President Bush. Her investment in him paid off well, as his administration has diverted millions of taxpayer dollars to her organization. Badgley was removed from her volunteer position leading the abstinence-only programs in South Carolina, where she was described as "controversial" by the Charleston Post and Courier.

School District Superintendent Ron McWhirt made the decision last week, saying that the "health and sex education program is too important and sensitive to be led by a volunteer who cannot be held accountable as a school district employee."

Badgley might be more comfortable in a Burka because her Heritage materials suggest that "girls have a responsibility to wear modest clothing that doesn't invite lustful thoughts," according to Tell Them SC.

LeAnna Benn, Board Director

LeAnna Benn started Teen-AID in Spokane, Washington. While touting the success of her materials and program, encouraging communities to buy them, she was routinely asked to furnish information about where the materials were being used. She said she hadn't kept track. While that lack of accountability won't get you in hot water with the ethics committee, it certainly raises questions about the integrity of the program and her sense of accountability. According to a journalist who has reviewed materials put out by Teen-Aid:

I have examined several of Teen-Aid's items, including both Sexuality, Commitment & Family and Me, My World, My Future. All the pieces that I have seen are overtly polemical in both purpose and style, all rely on obvious and outrageous distortions, and some deal in pseudoscience whose falsity will be evident to anyone who has had any respectable education at all.

According to People for the American Way "the curricula are filled with sexist bias, religious bias and racist and classist comments. For example, the text editorializes against marriages across class boundaries:

Sociologists have found that when similar economic backgrounds (`social class') and educational levels are disregarded by couples, marriage adjustment is very difficult. Different cultural backgrounds are also hurdles too high for some couples to negotiate.

The curricula provide no information on sexual orientation, and depict non-traditional families in a negative light.

Scott Phelps, Board Director

Scott Phelps is the Vice Chairman of the Abstinence & Marriage Education Partnership.

Phelps' teaching of abstinence was described in the New York Times as a one-way street, "At no point do the teachers invite questions, which could pull the classes into unplanned areas." A student who attended the class reviewed Phelps' class by saying ''they shouldn't hide anything that we need to know to keep safe.''

In what Fact-Esque calls a "Pro-Cancer Statement," Scott Phelps said, "Sexually transmitted diseases in the United States will not be contained by injecting vaccines into pre-adolescents in anticipation of promiscuous behavior," referring to the proven ability of the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, but the unproven claim that it will lead to promiscuity. As columnist Nick Kristoff observed about emergency contraception, "umbrellas don't cause rain."

Phelps has railed against gay men fo spreading AIDS, but has little to say about spreading AIDS to women through heterosexual marraige as he works against contracpetion and empowering women to make life decisions about whether and when to have children.

Joanne Mackenzie, Board Director

Joanne Mackenzie started the abstinence program WAIT Training. SIECUS concludes of WAIT Training, "its reliance on messages of fear and shame make it inappropriate for schools."

According to Fundiewatch, Mackenzie said, "I don't want kids to equate sex with disease. I want them to equate sex with love and tenderness and long-term romance, and all those yummy things that the heart longs for."

Yes, but love and tenderness would also involve truth and the information, trust and respect for teens to make responsible life decisions for themselves, based on respect for their bodies and their partners. That would be yummiest of all.

I don't know about you, dear reader, but after writing this piece I need a shower, and not a cold one, a hot one. I feel so dirty.

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