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Abstract

The continuing debate over sex education is currently being played out in school districts, state legislatures, and the federal government. Critics of abstinence education argue that it is ineffective in preventing teens from having sex, that it teaches students inaccurate scientific and medical information, and that it promotes homophobia and harmful gender stereotypes. In addition, other critics have argued that some abstinence-only programs violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. This Comment will demonstrate the broader constitutional problem with abstinence education: it is not merely, as previous scholars and litigators have argued, that certain curricula contain overtly religious teachings or that religious groups use abstinence funds to proselytize to students. Rather, the ideological nature of abstinence-only education pervades even the federal statute defining funding eligibility. The federal definition of abstinence, which all states and groups who receive funding must teach, offers a unique view of "permissible" sex that is, itself, a religious view of human sexuality. Unlike authors who have argued that the religious terminology of certain curricula may violate the Establishment Clause, I argue that the very foundation of abstinence-only policy is unconstitutional, and that it can only be remedied by a complete overhaul of the federal abstinence-only education system.

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