Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Maybe We Should Rethink This Whole "Abstinence-Only" Education, Y'all....

In case you missed it, the results of a landmark study by the CDC were released this week. The study had some really interesting numbers - and there was both good news and bad news:

  • Good News: The birth rate for U.S. teenagers fell 9 percent from 2009 to 2010, to 34.3, the lowest level ever reported in the seven decades. Additionally, the birth rates went down for all but three states (Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia)
  • Bad News: The Bible Belt continues to lead the nation in birth rates. Thirteen states have over 40 births per 1,000 females aged 15-19; of those 13 states, 5 of them have over 50 births per 1,000 females aged 15-19. The chart below (from the CDC report) reflects these numbers:

The chart above shows that teen birthrates are highest in Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arkansas, and New Mexico. There are slightly lower concentrations in the neighboring states of Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Arizona. What is disconcerting is the marked geographic differences between the Bible Belt and the rest of the country. For instance, the New England region has the lowest birth rates overall, led by New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

In order to understand the study a bit better a read a news story that summarizes and explains the report in a succinct and easily digestible way. The article, "U.S. Teen Birthrates Are Down, But Still High in These States" in The Atlantic Cities (by Richard Florida). Mr. Florida and a colleague of his did a bit of background work, and reviewed one of the underlying studies used to formulate the CDC's information. The results were telling:

Teenage births remain high in more religious states. The correlation between teenage birthrates and the percentage of adults who say they are “very religious” is considerable (.69). The 2009 study posited that attitudes toward contraception play a significant role, noting that "religious communities in the U.S. are more successful in discouraging the use of contraception among their teenagers than they are in discouraging sexual intercourse itself."
Teen birthrates also hew closely to America’s political divide. They are substantially higher in conservative states that voted for McCain in 2008 (with a correlation of .65) and negatively correlated with states that voted for Obama (-.62).

**Emphasis mine --AY

(By the way, I'm not going to touch on the political observation - at least not today ;)  )

I strongly believe that the part of the quote I emphasized is directly the result of the "teach abstinence not contraception" trend in Southern high schools. I've seen this first-hand, very recently. One of my kids, who is a freshman, has been learning sex education in health class recently. The handouts from the class included a bunch of pamphlets on Sex Ed. - one of STDs, one on teen pregnancy, etc. The telling thread running through all of the pamphlets is that they all taught about abstinence as a method for preventing all of these things - and that was the only method covered, including the one on STDs. I asked my kid if contraception and prevention was discussed at all, and the reply was a resounding NO.

No wonder our beloved Deep South has the highest birthrates in the nation.

Now don't get me wrong, I am perfectly fine with teaching abstinence. In fact, I encourage it. I honestly don't know of a parent who doesn't preach "abstinence is the best decision" to their kids day in and day out. But, we should also face reality. Most teens today have sex before they are out of high school. I'm not condoning this - it's just the way it is. The highest pregnancy rates are among the most religious because of the "abstinence only" teaching. We have to accept the cold truth that, eventually, virtually all teen's hormones win out over what they're taught, no matter how "pure they are in thoughts and deeds" otherwise. Plus, everyone should know about ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies, even if they do wait until marriage - so that they're not parents until they are ready to be parents. Unwanted pregnancies can happen in, or out, of wedlock - and contraceptives are the best way to prevent them, period.

I also believe that if your teen is as pure and pious as you've taught them to be, then learning about contraception isn't going to do any harm anyway. Let's get real - a condom never convinced someone to have sex, just like a beer never convinced someone to have a drink and a gun never convinced someone to commit murder. It takes a willing person to do all of these things.

I don't want to hear that "I don't want my teen to learn about contraception because sex is dirty" crap. That's ridiculous. Sex is the most beautiful act there is when it's between two people who love each other. And if you teach THAT to your teen, then - once again - teaching them about contraception isn't going to turn them into promiscuous tramps.

Incidentally, I learned about contraception when I was young. And yes, I eventually did become sexually active before I graduated high school. But, I never caught a STD, and I was married 6 years before my wife and I had our first child. Why didn't we have them earlier? Two reasons:
  1. We wanted to wait until we were emotionally and financially ready to have children, and;
  2. Because we knew about contraceptives, and how to use them.
So, Southerners, let's try to get our birthrates down and in line with, or lower than, the national average. Let's show the rest of the country that Southerners, even the religious ones, can do the right thing and be practical. Let's all teach our teens that abstinence is absolutely the best course of action; but until you're ready to have children use contraception - no matter when you engage in sex.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Public High School Graduations and Public Prayer

It's that time of year again - high school graduation. It's a joyous time for everyone - teachers, administrators, and most of all parents and students. Students are excited about closing this chapter and opening a new one in their lives, and parents are relieved that they made it through 12 years of school without killing them ;)

But all is not well in this picture. 

A common tradition at many high schools, especially rural ones and/or Southern ones, is to have a moment where people are commanded, "everyone bow their heads to pray", and the person at the podium leads everyone in a prayer; quite often it is the Lord's Prayer. If you're a Christian, this may seem like a nice tradition, and quite normal; if, however you're not a Christian - and you don't have to be an atheist, you could be a Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or any number of other NON-Christian religions - you feel, at the least, a bit awkward, and at the most extremely uncomfortable, isolated, and maybe even offended. The problem is that if you ARE a non-Christian, you almost certainly will keep your feelings of isolation to yourself. Why? Because in many (most?) circumstances you will be a pariah, persecuted, and forever branded as "other". I know, I have been there. Don't believe me? There is ample evidence to back me up, even quite recently. Here are a few examples:
  • Jennifer Ahlquist: She complained to the school board that a prayer banner hanging in the school was a violation of the Separation of Church and State (she's right). The issue was taken to court, and she was proven right. She has received NUMEROUS death threats from supposed "Christians", including this one. Incidentally, I am friends with many, many true Christians who are as offended and appalled at this as I am. They also agree with the Separation of Church and State. (2012)
  •  Nicole Smalkowski: At 13 her family moved to an 80-acre ranch in rural Oklahoma. Nicole was a great athlete, even played on the football team. During basketball season the team gathered after the games to recite the Lord's Prayer. She complained, was ostracized, and was even attacked publicly by town officials. Story here, video here. (2007)
  • Bastrop High School: Damon Fowler, an atheist and graduating senior at Bastrop High School in Louisiana, complained about the prayers scheduled to be part of his commencement ceremony. After consulting with an attorney, the school agreed to drop the prayer. Unfortunately, Damon has since been ostracized by the community and even attacked by a school official in the local newspaper (Mitzi Quinn). His parents also kicked him out of his home. Yes, his own parents. (2011)
These are but a few of the more public stories, and trust me there are many; what's scary is how many others are unreported? And let's not even talk about the countless thousands who sit and suffer in silence because they don't want to experience the, ahem, "Christian Love" displayed in these other stories.

I have three problems with this:
  1. This is a CLEAR violation of the Separation of Church and State. This has been proven many, many times in court - including all three stories mentioned above.
  2. Children should NOT have to be made to feel uncomfortable at one of the most important days of their lives, their high school graduation.
  3. As a Christian, you have infinite time to pray - before the ceremony, after, even during (to yourself). You can even get together in big groups and do it publicly. But doing it as an OFFICIAL, public part of the ceremony is wrong - and unnecessary. Incidentally, I do not know of a SINGLE non-Christian who has a problem with a Moment of Silence; this should suffice and would be acceptable to everyone, for the aforementioned reasons.
I have one other observation: demanding a public demonstration of prayer is BLATANTLY HYPOCRITICAL. The prayer that is most often recited publicly is Matthew 6:9-16 (NIV), otherwise known as the Lord's Prayer. What is so sad (it's almost comical) is that hardly any Christians - especially the ones who DEMAND a public prayer - know anything about the Bible other than what they are told. Take, for instance, the verses directly preceding the Lord's Prayer. Have you actually read the Lord's Prayer, in context, in the Bible? For those who aren't familiar with it, I give you Matthew 6:5-8 (NIV):

5 And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
 **Emphasis mine. --AY

So, if you are a Christian, I would like to ask you to reconsider your stance on "sanctioned" Public Prayer, at any public school-sponsored event. I've given you many reasons why; but if all the others fall on deaf ears, then I beseech you to listen to your God, who has clearly told you to not do it.

--AY (written by Rocky Oliver)

(NOTE: Inspiration and information for this post came from, the best social networking site for freethinkers, and from this video. Thanks to everyone who inspires me; I hope I do you proud.)

Begin at the Beginning...

Well, here we are. The first post of my new blogging endeavor, Atheism, Y'all. I've written a bit about myself and about this blog in the About page, so please give it a quick read to get the gist of what this place is all about. I can't wait to get started (in fact I'm about to start ;) ), and I invite you to be an active and vocal part of this community - whatever your religious or political flavor. 

No matter what it is, your opinion is always respected and valued.

In the words of Ed Sullivan (Ed Sullivan? I just referenced Ed Sullivan? Man, I feel old...), 

Heeeeeeere we go!