(Weekly Column)

It was mid-afternoon and I was driving into Stillwater to speak at Oklahoma State University. Hungry, I saw a gleaming red Chick-fil-A restaurant in the distance. Now, I had never eaten at this restaurant because of its alleged anti-gay policies. Needless to say, the prohibition only heightened my curiosity and against my better judgment I slinked inside for a forbidden chicken sandwich.

I simply had to try this place!

This scenario, of course, helps explain why abstinence-only education doesn’t work. Sex is much better than a chicken sandwich (if not, find a new partner) and making it taboo only invites rule breaking. The main difference is, eating a sandwich does not lead to life-long consequences such as unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

The very notion of abstinence-only education is absurd. It is founded on the bizarre idea of telling rebellious teens not to have sex until marriage and believing that they will actually listen. Any honest parent would tell you that teenagers aren’t the best at following the commands of stuffy adults. Yet, on the crucial subject of sex education, many school districts have policies that presume teens will almost always obey preachers posing as teachers.

Clearly, abstinence-only programs are ineffective and not about public health or preparing students for responsible sexual relations. Instead, they exist so ambitious politicians can funnel public money to ideologues who want to craftily inculcate students with religious propaganda.

pam2006Project SOS in Jacksonville, Florida is one example of this slippery attempt to evangelize on the public’s dime. Despite the group’s curriculum being called “unacceptable” and inaccurate by health experts, SOS has received $6.5 million in federal funding through the Department of Health and Human services since 2002 – including $454,000 in September 2010, according to The Florida Independent.

In a special report for Truth Wins Out, researcher Bruce Wilson discovered that Pam Mullarkey, the founder and director of SOS (pictured), says God inspired her program. Her church, Beaches Chapel Church, (Not the one with Bette Midler) identifies SOS as one of its “ministries” and calls Mullarkey a “missionary”.

SOS is cunning in the way it disseminates sectarian messages to captive student audiences. For example, in one video, an actor has a tattoo on his forearm with large letters, “God is my judge.”

“In functional terms, they amount to government-backed covert religious indoctrination programs,” says Bruce Wilson in his report.

The program preaches no sex until marriage, which by design excludes LGBT teenagers who can’t legally marry. Of course, this is no surprise, considering Mullarkey’s church has an “ex-gay” ministry, “Laughter from Purity,” which teaches inmates at a faith-based prison to resist homosexuality through Jesus Christ. According to the ministry’s web-site, God loves homosexuals, but the homosexual must be set free from a “bondage of lies and deception that come from being wounded and sexually broken.”

Most disturbing is SOS’s endorsement of Martin Ssempa who presides over condom burning bonfires at a university in Kampala and is a leading backer of the “kill the gays” bill that may soon come up for a vote in Uganda’s parliament.

Referring to the fact that several of Ssempa’s family members have died of AIDS, Mullarkey told the Florida Independent that homosexuals in Africa “have destroyed people’s lives.”

Sadly, this useless program has reached more than 300,000 Florida students.  SOS has at least 40 full-time and part time government-funded employees who are surreptitiously evangelizing.

At a time when Republican blowhards are obsessed with trimming government spending, why is such foolishness still being funded? According to an ACLU Florida study, “Sex Education in The Sunshine State”, Mullarkey’s SOS programs, “Employ fear and shame- based tactics” and some “Teach misinformation on HIV/AIDS.” Such ridiculous and futile programs should be the first on the chopping block if Republicans are serious about reducing wasteful spending.

But, I doubt that will happen given the Religious Right’s stranglehold on the GOP – particularly in Florida, which is quickly becoming the new Mississippi. Republicans will pretend they are funding such programs to uphold virtue, when they are really just fishing for votes.

The disastrous Faith-based Initiative has intertwined church and state, with indoctrination slowly replacing education. Religious programs like SOS are ensuring that students don’t stand a prayer when faced with key decisions affecting their health. It is time to quit the nonsense and abstain from funding programs that are wasteful, unconstitutional and a transparent attempt to illegally raid public coffers to evangelize in public schools.