Ding Ding Ding to Silver Ring Thing
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Sat Feb 25, 2006 at 02:08:08 AM EST
Such a nifty operation -- actors traveling across the country with a high-tech lights and sound show. Some song, some dance, some flash, and then a good ol' time converting kids to Christianity. And the best part about it - at least from the evangelical perspective -- the government paid for it.  To the high volume tune of a million bucks from its abstinence-only-until-marriage pork barrel. This week, the American Civil Liberties Union announced the settlement of a lawsuit it filed in Massachusetts, in which the government agrees that it won't continue to fund the Silver Ring Thing. Sad truth: it's only a drop in the abstinence-only, faith-based collection bucket.

Yep, as others have reported on this site, one billion dollars is being poured into abstinence education under the Bush administration. Nice work, if you can get it, and apparently lots of folks can.

Another $27 million is being sought for abstinence-only education in 2007 (of course, there's not enough money to continue funding college loans, but as long as kids are sexually pure, who needs college, right?) It's doing a heckuva job, too - failing teens by eliminating education that is necessary for them to manage their sexual lives without endangering themselves or others. (Read the Waxman Report here ).

While the funding pot has skyrocketed, accountability is pretty slim. No one in the government seems to notice or care when abstinence programs use their federal dollars to convert the unchurched. The Silver Ring Thing, for example, is operated by the John Guest Evangelical Team in the Pittsburgh area, which bragged blatantly in its newsletter that the Silver Ring Thing was its "primary outreach" for "calling the world to Jesus Christ."

After seeing the light and sound show, students are asked to take a chastity pledge, and are offered an opportunity to buy a Silver Ring - only fifteen bucks. It is inscribed with a reference to a biblical verse.

A press release from the ACLU explains:

(T)he Silver Ring Thing describes its mission as "offering a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as the best way to live a sexually pure life." During the Silver Ring Thing's flagship three-hour program, members testify about how accepting Jesus Christ improved their lives, quote Bible passages, and urge audience members to ask the Lord Jesus Christ to come into their lives. In addition, the official silver ring of the program is inscribed with a reference to the biblical verse "1 Thess. 4:3-4," which reads "God wants you to be holy, so you should keep clear of all sexual sin. Then each of you will control your body and live in holiness and honor."

The John Guest Evangelical Team did not even try to hide its intentions. In one newsletter it gloated: "Who would have ever thought we would see the day when promoting sexual abstinence among students would become an opportunity to communicate the Good News of the Gospel?", as I reported here
when the lawsuit was filed.

And even though the ACLU won this case and the Silver Ring Thing will lose its current $75,000 grant, the frustrating part is that court actions challenging systemic violations of the separation of church and state are stymied. By prior Supreme Court decisions, challenges to abstinence-only education program are limited to case-by-case reviews -- one abstinence program at a time. But what is needed is a challenge against the whole outrageous shebang, taking on, for example, the entire ill-conceived abstinence-only boondoggle.

A 1988 decision by the Supreme Court held that government funding of abstinence education (it was a program of a measly four million dollars then!) must be limited to institutions that are not "pervasively" religious. Further, all programs had to eliminate all elements of religious indoctrination.

The Bush administration altered that standard. After Bush signed an presidential executive order in 2001, permitting government money to flow to religious organizations, the Department of Health and Human Services knocked out several more bricks in the wall separating church and state.

To implement the executive order, the Health and Human Services Department announced new regulations in July 2004, permitting organizations to obtain abstinence funds even if they are "pervasively" religious. In explaining the apparent contradiction with the Supreme Court 1988 ruling, the department asserted that a majority of the justices no longer accepted the underlying analysis of the decision.

"Where a religious organization receives direct government assistance, any inherently religious activities that the organization offers must simply be offered separately, in time or location," the department explained in comments published along with the adoption of the new regulations.

From this article.

The Silver Ring Thing did not even adhere to that. Its government-funded webstie was full of Christian advice on how to be chaste for God.

As in environmental regulation and enforcement of labor standards, there is no enforcement of regulations to protect kids from religion-spouting abstinence teachers.

The government rejected the idea of separate monitoring to prevent religious indoctrination.

"There is no accountability. As a practical matter, there is no monitoring," said Rob Boston, a staff member of Americans United for Separation of Church and State ....

From this aritcle.

So ring a few bells for a victory on the Silver Ring Thing. But that leaves a mere $999 million (and counting) taxpayer dollars being burned on abstinence-only education that spreads the "Gospel", but does little else.

If you want to open up a discussion on abstinence-only education, try using The Education of Shelby Knox.  It's the rich and fascinating journey of a Texas teen who tries to get sex ed in her school.

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