After a Canadian high school student filed a human rights complaint against her school district, saying that her rights as a nonbeliever were violated by being required to attend a course on sexual purity taught by a conservative Christian group, school officials agreed to reconsider the curriculum. The anti-abortion group that taught that abstinence education course, Pregnancy Care Centre, won’t be invited back next year.
Emily Dawson and her mother, Kathy, lodged a formal complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission after Emily was required to attend a two-day abstinence class in order to graduate. The complaint alleges that the Pregnancy Care Centre’s course used scare tactics, like misleading information about STDs and negative stereotypes about single parent homes, to dissuade students from having sex. The Dawsons identify as agnostics and were offended that they had no option to opt out of a course taught by a conservative religious organization with an explicit agenda.
Now, thanks to the public backlash sparked by their allegations, Emily’s school district is looking for new speakers to cover topics related to sex ed.
“We’ve heard a lot of concerns expressed from the public over the last several days about guest speakers invited to present on the topic of sexual health education,” the board wrote in a statement released Friday. “We are asking our schools in the fall to use different presenters so that we can continue this conversation, and focus on meeting the needs of students and parents.”
Kathy Dawson told CBC News that she will continue to pursue the human rights complaint, despite the school board’s decision. She believes that other public schools across the province may be using similar religious speakers for their own abstinence assemblies; she hopes to bring more attention to the issue and perhaps get legislators involved.
The Pregnancy Care Centre is affiliated with a network of right-wing “crisis pregnancy centers” in the United States called Care-Net. Both groups are opposed to abortion and advocate for sexual abstinence until marriage. In an interview with CBC News, a researcher at the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada said it’s somewhat surprising that a Canadian public school would use a sexual health curriculum from a U.S. group, since Canada has been “far ahead of the U.S. when it comes to teaching about sexual health free of ideology or religion.”
Indeed, here in the United States, it’s not uncommon for faith-based groups to be invited into public schools to offer sexual health courses. These assemblies — which typically tell students that sex will make them dirty, and compare sexually active people with chewed up gum, dirty chocolate, and spit — are often mandatory. For instance, a West Virginia high schooler made national headlines last year for protesting a similar abstinence-only assembly that spread misinformation about birth control and STDs.
Serious consequences can result from the junk science that often pervades abstinence-only curricula. An estimated 60 percent of young adults are misinformed about birth control’s effectiveness. And the states that lack adequate sex ed requirements are also the states that have the highest rates of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Nonetheless, the United States doesn’t have any national standards for implementing comprehensive sex education classes in public schools.