“Silence Equals Death”

The Utah Legislature has defied science, reason and decency in passing a bill which would, in the words of The Salt Lake Tribune,

let schools skip teaching sex education and prohibit instruction in the use of contraception.

Senate debate over HB363 was relatively short Tuesday afternoon before senators passed it 19-10. In the end, many senators felt schools shouldn’t teach the subject.

“To replace the parent in the school setting, among people who we have no idea what their morals are, we have no ideas what their values are, yet we turn our children over to them to instruct them in the most sensitive sexual activities in their lives, I think is wrongheaded,” said Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden.

A number of lawmakers, all Democrats, rose to speak against the bill Tuesday and ask questions. But Senate bill sponsor Sen. Margaret Datyon, R-Orem, refused to answer questions about the bill, saying “I think everybody basically knows where they are on this issue. Obviously, the senators may speak, but I don’t know that it’s going to be beneficial for me to try to debate or answer questions.” (emphasis mine)

Seriously? When is debate not beneficial? When are unanswered questions helpful? 

Carol Spackman Moss ,  a member of the Utah House of Representatives takes issue with the process and the results of it, invoking a very familiar (to those outside the Utah Bubble) slogan:

Silence equals death. Once a slogan for AIDS activists, today it articulates the stakes in a legislative battle over sex education in Utah’s public schools. HB363, Health Education Amendments , has passed the House and Senate. Gov. Gary Herbert should veto it.

The bill is an effort to silence teachers from giving Utah teens accurate information about sex, contraceptives and homosexuality. It would even empower school districts to withdraw any education at all about human sexuality. In fact, withholding this vital information could result in death for some teenagers and undoubtedly would result in life-altering consequences for countless others, including unplanned pregnancies, STDs and even increased suicides.

Supporters of the bill want to deny Utah teens the knowledge that would assist them in making appropriate decisions, including abstinence. Unplanned parenthood will be just one consequence of purposeful ignorance about sex.

Unfortunately, more teenage pregnancies will likely lead to abortions. Silence about safer sex will do nothing to reduce the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases among young people. The archaic — and unconstitutional — stigma on homosexuality will stain our community, promote the bullying of vulnerable teens, and contribute to the epidemic of suicide by gay teens.

These are some of the reasons HB363 is not only unwise, but dangerous, even immoral. The ban on information about sexuality endangers the lives of vulnerable children by prohibiting teachers from providing responses to spontaneous questions from students that might constitute “advocacy of homosexuality” or “the use of contraceptive methods or devices.”

These restrictions are unconstitutionally vague and ambiguous. Would a teacher violate this mandate by confirming for a student that the use of condoms significantly reduces the risk of pregnancy and the transmission of many diseases? If a student comes out to a teacher, can the teacher express support for the student? What about counseling a student about coming out to his parents? Would that be “advocacy of homosexuality” in violation of the proposed law?

The Utah Legislature should not command its schools to pretend that contraception, pre-marital sex and homosexuality do not exist. These issues are simply facts of life, and public schools should prepare students to live in the real world by providing age-appropriate information.

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