• May 1, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Tennessee lawmakers appear to be itching for national attention, regardless of how buffoonish their actions. Or more likely the lawmakers that passed measures attacking science education and making a sham of sex education are only interested in pleasing localized interests, such as Christian right activists.

    Yes, the rest of the country has taken note of the fatuous measures successfully pushed by state Rep. Jim Gotto and Sen. Bo Watson.

    Gotto’s measure, which has been sent to the governor, declares that only abstinence can be discussed in sex education courses, meaning no discussion of so-called “gateway sexual activity,” which according to the bill is “sexual conduct encouraging an individual to engage in non-abstinent behavior.” TPM reports that groups like Planned Parenthood that provide sex education information to the schools “could face $500 fine,” for violating the measure.

    Will Gotto’s prudish measure do anything other than draw ridicule? On the national stage, ridicule is likely all Gotto’s measure will garner. But his measure is likely not aimed at curbing unwanted pregnancies or garnering praise from other states. It’s all about pleasing a constituency stuck somewhere in the 1950s. If the representative were truly concerned about teenage pregnancy and birth rates, he would have not have advocated for abstinence-only rhetoric.

    Studies overwhelmingly show abstinence-only policy is not sound education. Late last year researchers from the University of Georgia found that states using abstinence-only programs in public schools have far higher teenage pregnancy and birth rates than those states that have comprehensive sex education programs. Kathrine Stranger-Hall, a science professor at the university, said, “Our analysis adds to the overwhelming evidence indicating that abstinence-only education does not reduce teen pregnancy rates.”

    The other bill, pushed by Sen. Watson, has already become law, and also harkens to the past. Tennessee has a history of fighting science, but it is not alone in fighting evolution, the cornerstone of biology. Kansas drew nationwide attention in the late 1990s and again in 2005 for its effort to push evolution from the science curriculum.

    Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Bible’s creation story could not be taught alongside evolution in science courses, Christian Right activists have been working year after year to find a way to circumvent the Supreme Court.