Joining me at the table are Ann Hanson, Rev. Ignacio Castuera, Rev. Cedric Harmon, Emily Goodstein, and Bill Smith. Over 30 national organizations and Congressional offices sent representatives to the briefing.
We'll be posting my comments at our website next week, but here's a piece from the ending. Let me know what you think.
The fact is we know how to prevent unintended teenage pregnancies. The US teenage pregnancy rate is 9 times higher than the Netherlands, four or five times higher than other European countries. Our teen gonorrhea rate is a shocking 74 time higher than France and the Netherlands. 74 times. The reason? An openness about sexuality, a clear message to young people that sexuality is a wonderful part of life but that it must be exercised wisely, sexuality education that begins at the youngest ages in the home and in schools and continues throughout their youth and early adulthood, and easily accessible free or low cost family planning services. We have forty years of research telling us there is NO silver bullet, but there are clear common sense proven strategies – we just need the political will and the funding to put them into practice.
That’s good public health practice – but it’s also the moral and ethical response. Religious institutions and religious leaders support and provide comprehensive sexuality education out of deep commitment to our theology, our sacred texts, and to our belief that they are called to serve the most vulnerable, the most marginalized among us. We must remember that the lack of sexuality education and family planning services disproportionately affects low income families in the United States: Poor and low income adolescents account for almost three quarters of all teenage pregnancies in the United States, and 83% of the births to teenagers.
Sexuality is one of life’s most precious blessings, but we need to be wise stewards of this gift. We know that our sexuality should be celebrated with joy, holiness, and integrity, but that requires understanding, respect and self discipline. We know that our young people need adult help to develop their capacity for moral discernment and a freely informed conscience.
We are at a Kairos moment. We need a federal sexuality education program that reaches all young people -- those who are heterosexual, those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or questioning of their orientation, those who are transgender or questioning, those who are abstinent and choose to remain so, those who have had sexual relationships, and those who have experienced sexual abuse.
Last year at a similar briefing, I ended my remarks this way. “It is time – it is way past time – for the federal government to support sexuality education programs for youth and to cease funding programs that are not only ineffective but may put our children and teenagers at risk – for disease, for short changed futures, for denial of the gift of their sexuality. “
It is a Kairos moment for our young people. We pray that together those of us in this room – the members of Congress and their staffs, the organizational representatives, the religious leaders – will walk through that opening together."
May it be so.