Does Abstinence Education Violate Human Rights? Teen Forces School To Dump Christian Sex Ed

Jonathan Vankin

A teen in Alberta, Canada, was forced to sit through a sex education class taught by a Christian group, a class that she says advocated abstinence and included such teachings as "condoms don't work" and "gonorrhea can kill you in three days," among other examples of flagrant misinformation. So Emily Dawson and her mother Kathy filed a human rights complaint against the Edmonton Public School Board.

The board has now dumped the Christian group that taught the abstinence education class, the Edmonton Pregnancy Care Center, an anti-abortion activist group. The group says that what it teaches in the class is "science and research based."

But that's not how Emily saw the course, which is taught by the Christian group to about 60 Edmonton schools each year.

"She did a lot of slut-shaming to the women, and pointed out the guys as horn-dogs," Emily, now 18 and no longer in high school, says of the course's instructor. "She really ridiculed single-parent families, she made it sound like they all give birth to juvenile delinquents."

She said that when a classmate posed a question to the abstinence education teacher about same-sex relationships, the teacher responded, "We're not here to discuss that," and refused to answer.

Kathy Dawson sat in on one of the classes after Emily complained to her about the content of the class. The school told her that opting out of the course was not possible without suffering a strike against her academic record.

"It's values-based sex ed and all the values are evangelical values," says Kathy, who is a self-described "agnostic" when it comes to religion. "It's not even mainstream Christianity. I'm not against abstinence. But I think the message is diminished when it's surrounded by misinformation and fear."

Other supposed "facts" taught in the class, according to the Dawsons, are that 60 percent of teen boys carry the HPV virus under their fingernails, and girls must dress in modest attire so that teen boys do not become overly aroused.

When the Edmonton school board sent its own reps to sit in on a class, however, they found "the presentation met our standards and expectations on every level -- information was presented in a scientifically sound way and students were observed to be comfortable in sharing their thoughts and feelings."

But the school board dropped the class anyway, due to parental "concerns."

Kathy Dawson says that the abstinence education teachers most likely "toned down" their rhetoric to avoid alarming the school board representatives, one of whom was a registered nurse.

The Dawsons in April filed with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, charging that Emily's rights were violated not only because she was compelled to endure religious teachings that contradicted her own beliefs, but because she comes from a single-parent family herself, and the abstinence education class condemned single parenting.

Kathy Dawson also says that she was not notified that her daughter was required to attend the abstinence education class. Alberta law requires that parents be told in advance the content of sex-education classes, a requirement put into effect to allow conservative Christians to opt of sex ed, but in this case is being applied the other way around, against abstinence education.