Never miss a post. Subscribe today.

Education Montana Politics

One More Attempt To Deny Health Education to Students

Helena’s own Liz Bangerter is leading the charge once again to deny Montana’s young people access to medically necessary information about human sexuality, calling HB 239 a “mother’s dream bill.”

For once, Bangerter may be right, as passage of HB 239 will certainly increase the number of young mothers in Montana, along with cases of syphilis and abortions.

The reality-based community knows that comprehensive health education protects students from STIS, reduces unwanted pregnancies, and decreases abortion.  Laurie Abraham, writing for the New York Times Magazine makes the case that these ideologically-driven attacks on the health of our students are much worse than

“The campaign for abstinence in the schools and communities may seem trivial, an ideological nuisance,” Michelle Fine and Sara McClelland wrote in a 2006 study in The Harvard Educational Review, “but at its core it is . . . a betrayal of our next generation, which is desperately in need of knowledge, conversation and resources to negotiate the delicious and treacherous terrain of sexuality in the 21st century.”

This may be a radical notion for the hard right to accept, but health teachers work in the best interests of their students. They tackle a subject that is incredibly difficult to teach, not for some prurient interest or desire to corrupt innocent youth, but because they know that students desperately need accurate information about all aspects of health, including sexual health. I suspect almost every health teacher in the state would prefer not to talk about sex education, but they do it because it’s necessary, it’s right, and it’s effective when presented professionally.

A final, disastrous component of this bill is that it would prohibit any abortion service provider from offering education in schools, effectively removing Planned Parenthood from the schools, despite the fact that 97% of the work that Planned Parenthood does is prevention and education. As so many of the articulate teenagers noted, students desperately need medically-accurate information about sexual health to prevent disease, abuse, and pregnancy. Banning Planned Parenthood might make a good sound bite for the radical right, but it makes for incredibly poor policy for children.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


Click here to post a comment

Please enter an e-mail address

  • We at Montana Women’s Lobby agree with you wholeheartedly. HB 239 is a bad bill that is unworkable and unnecessary. Anyone who is a parent with children in school knows how difficult it is to keep up with the papers needing to be signed tonight—and this bill requires that a parental signature is needed every single time that a reproductive health lesson is to be taught. Also, Montana law already allows for parents to “opt out” of reproductive health (e.g., sex ed) lessons if they feel such lessons are “inappropriate” for their child. Why in the world do we need a state law that makes it almost impossible for students to learn about reproductive health??? This is a bad bill!

  • Proper use of human sexuality is taught by all world religions. It is not merely “health” information, but includes a strong religious and moral component. When public education’s “health” education enters into the area of teaching behaviors which are counter to the student’s and parent’s religious faith they are in violation of the religious freedom and consciences of our citizens. These beliefs are protected by our first amendment rights and it is not the role of our government through public education to violate them. Leave these matters to families, and churches instead of indoctrinating students into your own belief systems.

    Why not permit an option during these “health” classes? Students could be attend another class taught by each student’s religious leader.

    • That’s the whole thing, though. Not all families are teaching any actual sexual education. It’s not violating anyone’s religion to tell students exactly how pregnancy happens, or how to protect yourself. It’s simply imparting knowledge, and it’s been proven that knowledge of sex does not equal having sex. It’s much safer to teach these kids that you CAN get pregnant if you have sex standing up. That you CAN get pregnant even if you drink Mountain Dew right after. Why NOT teach them about menstruation? My parents told me nothing about sex or menstruation. Boy, those were fun years. I wish I would have had sex ed to teach me about menstruation, to assure me it’s not “gross” or “disgusting” to menstruate, that it’s not a “curse,” and to show me how to insert a tampon.

      BTW, facts don’t make up a belief system.

      • We are in complete agreement that too many families do not provide there children proper education on God’s gift of procreation. But the failure of one family does not usurp the rights of those who take their parental responsibility seriously, and it certainly does not give the government the right to teach anything counter to the religious beliefs of students.

        Almost all of what you are suggesting should be taught in our “health” classes could be easily accomplished in a 15 minute lecture during biology class. Having had to sit through health classes as a teen, I know what they really want to teach: the mechanics of pleasurable sex, without any connection to morality or a spiritual dimension. Also, several of the “facts” I was taught back in the 1980’s have since been proven as false, or merely fantasy. “Health” classes are merely a Trojan horse (blush) to indoctrinate children into the belief that no sexual activity is taboo, as long as it is done “safely”.

        Christians who trust the words of Jesus to be true know that Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.”

        This belief is protected by the law of the land as freedom of religion, and it is not lawful for the government schools to usurp this right because they think they know better than the parents.

        • Rev., your scholarship is a bit sloppy. If you’re going to quote scripture, you really ought to let people know which version of the Bible you’re quoting. I prefer the Cambridge version of the King James Bible, in which Matthew reads in part:

          “15Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. 16And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? 17Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? 18But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. 19For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: 20These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.”

          As for freedom of religion — well, it’s not absolute. Knock that notion out of your frock. Religious practice is and should be circumscribed by secular law. You can believe in human sacrifice, but you can’t practice it. Parents who don’t want their children to receive sound, objective instruction in the facts of life, and to receive it from professional educators, can enroll their children in private schools or homeschool them.

          Fundamentally, the arguments you are making derive from a fear that parents and preachers have such a tenuous grasp of the facts, and such weak skills of persuasion, that they are powerless to protect their children from the world outside their homes and churches — and that the only remedy is to keep public school from teaching the facts. It’s a pity you don’t have a higher opinion of yourselves.

          • Sorry for not citing this text more clearly. It is the ESV translation. I was only quoting it to make the point that Jesus teaches a specific morality for sexual behavior. (adultery, and fornication e.g.) That point is simple enough that translation shouldn’t matter. When I want to study more closely I don’t use a translation but the Nestle-Aland critical Greek text.

            My fundamental point is that it is not the states responsibility to teach religious moral ideals. My teaching “just the facts” you still teach a morality. It is amorality.

            • “government schools”? Really? Um, rev, just WHY do you refer to our fine public schools as “government” schools? That’s right outta the unreligeeous nutjob right’s playbook! Is THAT where you’re comin’ from, revvy?

              • In the church/state dichotomy delineated in the first amendment, public education is funded, controlled, and regulated by the local, state and federal governments. Yes, that would be government schools. What is the alternative? Church schools?

                • Once again, revvy, NO ONE rerfers to public schools as gubmint school exCEPT the nutjob crowd. You see, revvy, the problem I have with self-proclaimed revvies is that they do NOT have to pay their dues to call themselves revrearends! As much as I dislike the catholic religion, at LEAST a priest must go through a seminary course of study.

                  But in the Fundiwackementalist churches, one needs to only send in your payment in order to recieve your “degree in divinity”! THAT’S the great thing about belongin’ to nutty rightwing churches. ANYone can be a preacher! And buddy let me tell ya I’ve seen some doozies! Real psychos!

                  Where did you purchase your revrearend degree from, revvy? And what are your college degrees in? For you see, you reek of rightwing religeeo wingnuttery! Gubmint schools. Hmmph!

                • The ad hominem attack is not a rational argument, and my education (Master of Divinity, 1998, Concordia Theological Seminary accredited by ATS and a degree equivalent or greater than a catholic priest) has nothing to do with my points. Addressing the point is making your case, attacking my education proving my point, that you do not have a rational argument.

                  Fact: Supreme Court in Engel v. Vitale, 82 S. Ct. 1261 (1962)
                  Any kind of prayer, composed by public school districts, even nondenominational prayer, is unconstitutional GOVERNMENT sponsorship of religion. (Emphasis added)

                  If our public schools are not government, then it would follow that they can have prayers. (I am not for this, but I don’t think the Supreme Court should be described as a “nutjob crowd”) .

                • Missery Synod, huh? Well THAT explains a whole lot, timmy. You guys are the snake handlers of an otherwise fine religion. (although I despise all organized religions) Kinda funny with all that “education” you folks STILL believe in creationism! And strange.

                  No, revvy, it’s not ad hominen, amigo. I just believe in the TRVTH, as well you should bein’ a pastord and all. Jesus was all ABOUT the TRVTH, and the TRVTH is that the Missery Synod is the snake handlin’ group of the Lutheran Church.

                  But one more thing. You’re an educated revvy, so WHY must you call them gubmint schools? When did you FIRST start using that term and why? You hate public schools, and it shows. So, revvy, just WHAT is preventing your from starting a wacko creationism school?

                  How old are you anyways? You’d been laffed outta the pulpit forty years ago.

        • Tim –

          No one’s freedom of religion is being infringed upon. Parents have the option to opt out of sex education – the just have to be pro-active about it. This bill is about putting all that responsibility on the vast majority of parents who want their children to receive biologically accurate information about sex as they do about every other subject.

          Also, Trojan horse? If anything, the purpose of health classes is to deliver State-approved messages about drugs, which are frequently unsupported by peer-reviewed studies. There is no mention made of the morality of any particular act in my experience, which is a mite bit more recent than yours (though I recall that my own health teacher was powerfully anti-abortion and forced us to get our child development data from pro-life websites.

          Finally, religious freedom is not infringed by knowledge. No on is forcing or even encouraging kids to use birth control or have unprotected sex or what have you. Teaching them about the existence and efficacy of such practices is no more an assault on Christianity that teaching the nutritional value of beef and pork is an attack on Hinduism, and quite a bit less than allowing army recruiters in schools is an attack on pacifist faiths.

          • Sexuality is a moral issue. It always is. It is not something that is always wrong or always right, because context is important. As said above, teaching information about sex without teaching morality is implicitly teaching amorality. Just teaching the facts belongs in biology, not “how to” health classes.

            As far as opting out. Long ago people use to pray is schools. This was seen a pushing religion on people, and a violation of religious liberty, which it is. But when new laws allowed for students to opt out of these prayers, they were still deemed a violation of religious rights, because those leaving would experience shame and psychological pressure to remain. We should be fair and use the same principle with sex education. It should be eliminated from our schools just like prayer, for the same reasons. Opting out is not an acceptable compromise. Teach amoral values off campus, just as I teach moral values off campus.

            As far as you examples in the last paragraph appear to be apples and oranges to me. Abstinence is not an illegal activity. Sex is not nutritious, it is procreative. Love is not war.

            • “Sexuality is a moral issue. It always is.”

              So is nutrition. Nearly every religion in history has dietary restrictions, and the Bible speaks at least as extensively (and medieval Christianity carried on the tradition) about food as about sex. Millions of Americans don’t eat pork, and yet we don’t shield their kids from its existence – we put it RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM! And yet somehow their kids manage to avoid it. Now, we’re not allowed to give kids condoms, but certainly teaching them about their existence is not any worse than putting pork in front of a Muslim student.

              ” As said above, teaching information about sex without teaching morality is implicitly teaching amorality. ”

              All subjects have a moral dimension, yet all are taught amorally. Read a history book – the expansion of this nation and the destruction of the hundreds that preceded it are taught with a clinically dispassionate tone. Now personally I think that history has a powerful moral dimension, and by most standards the moral questions of history are far weightier than when teenagers choose the have sex), but that morality depends on your perspective, and so while it may be discussed in the classroom, it should not be presented as absolute.

              Facts, on the other hand, are amoral – condom use is about 97% effective at preventing pregnancy over the course of a year if used consistently, but cannot stop the spread of all sexually transmitted infections. That statement has no moral dimension, it is a statement of fact. Now, new evidence may indicate that the number is higher or lower, and the fact will need to be changed, but its veracity does not depend on perspective.

              Prayers, on the other hand, have no objective component – they are inherently teaching morality. Ceasing to lead prayer in school is not comparable to withholding legitimate information. And while prayer is certainly the promotion of a certain religious view, presenting facts about sexuality does not infringe anyone’s beliefs – there is no scripture, no doctrine, forbidding understanding of sexual matters. Indeed, understanding earthly matters is a great advantage in living a Christian life in a materialistic world.

              • “Facts, on the other hand, are amoral – condom use is about 97% effective at preventing pregnancy over the course of a year if used consistently, but cannot stop the spread of all sexually transmitted infections.”

                One takes notice of the 97 percent effectiveness fact and prays that one is not among the 3 percent whose use of the device is not effective.

              • Nice post Polish Wolf, but in need of further clarification to be factual.

                1st: Nutrition is not the same as a dietary restriction. No religion eliminates items from their diet because of their nutritional content. Apples and Oranges.

                2nd: Your facts about condoms are good ones, and are a good advertisement for those who make a choice to use this product. The moral component of facts still comes out by the choice of which facts you choose to teach. Abstinence is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy, and 100% effective against STD’s yet you chose the condom even though the facts show that it is the less effective means of preventing harm to yourself and others. I would dare say you made that choice for moral reasons.

                Finally, I think you found the elephant in the room here! You wrote, “All subjects have a moral dimension, yet all are taught amorally.” Spot on. This I believe is the problem in principle with public education. It is why children don’t learn in school. It is why they act as if nothing matters but what feels good at the moment. If you teach everything form a amoral point of view, you teach amorality. Our kids act as they are taught. Education works.

                On the other hand, facts show that students in religious schools learn even the facts more effectively, but their teachers never shy away from the moral component in every topic. The moral dimension makes education more interesting , meaningful, and relevant to students. I know this because I teach. You do too. Lets just be honest. You cannot separate the moral component in education.

                BTW I find your opinion that prayers have no objective component to be bigoted. Also, you are making a unprovable assumption when you call our world merely materialistic. You are making a religious (metaphysical) statement exposing your faith. You are a materialist. I am not, many of your students are not. A religious tolerant view would accept that other do not see things the way you do.

                • “facts show that students in religious schools learn even the facts more effectively”

                  do you have anything to back this up?

                • No, no, my comparison of food and sex is exceedingly relevant. Because just as religion does not teach abstinence of certain foods because they are bad for you, but rather because their consumption is immoral in some non-material way, the same is true about sex. Religions do not teach rules about sexuality to avoid pregnancy or disease – if this were the case, religious groups would encourage birth control, STI testing and condom use. No, religions teach rules about sex because they believe certain kinds or instances of sex to be immoral outside of their physical, material consequences.

                  “Abstinence is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy, and 100% effective against STD’s yet you chose the condom even though the facts show that it is the less effective means of preventing harm to yourself and others.”

                  I chose to discuss condoms precisely because the facts show that they are less effective than abstinence. As James noted, when you use a condom you just hope you’re not in that 3 percent. Indeed, that is yearly, so if we take .97 to the fourth power, a student who is consistently sexually active through four years of high school has a probability of over .1 of becoming pregnant. Those are good odds, but they are not great. And the odds go down if they ever have sex drunk or high! Indeed, that’s a pretty compelling case for abstinence or some other form of birth control, IMHO. But the bill being discussed would make the conversation we just had very difficult to have in a school.

                  ” This I believe is the problem in principle with public education.”

                  The problem is the overwhelming need to respect everyone’s viewpoint. Therefore, teaching any particular moral viewpoint is off the table entirely. A courageous and skilled teacher can certainly orchestrate a discussion about the morality of the subject matter without imposing his or her viewpoint. However, such a teacher is perpetually putting themselves at risk, primarily from religious or high opinionated parents who want their children taught only sterile facts because they are uncomfortable with their children thinking and making moral judgments for themselves (read: Barbara Rush).

                  My statement about prayers is not bigoted in the least – a prayer has no objective component. I think we can agree that materially identical prayers have entirely different meaning coming from two different subjects – therefore their meaning is entirely subjective. And I am not in fact a materialist, but I recognize that we are living currently in a material world. Indeed, I believe that is an article of faith, unless you follow a Gnostic tradition, which you don’t. ‘Merely material’ is a poor choice of words – Christ lived a material life, as a material human, in the material world – there is value in the material. There may be spirit infused into our world, but it is a physical world we live in, and so an understanding of how the material parts of it work is still important for living a moral life.

                • I see your point on education, but that’s neither here nor there. First of all, Dr. Hein is emphasizing the use of classical education to create a worldview and prepare well-rounded human beings. But the sort of classical education he is proposing is thoroughly unconstitutional. Public education is appropriate for preparing us for the City of Man; the City of God, as Augustine would say, is not within the purview of the public education system.

                  I do agree with you, in fact, more than you might believe. I received extensive education in the humanities from a Jesuit university, and I agree with you and Dr. Hein that there is a problem with our conception of the ‘good life’ that education prepares us for.

                  However, there are two basic problems with your argument. The first is that there is little to no justification for using public education to further a classical Christian view of humanity and society, even though you and I may agree that it’s a useful education point of view. There is a great pressure on the public school, indeed, to do exactly the opposite – to adjust our education to be more like the supposedly superior Asian model, which is far more focused on careers and material pursuits than even our own. Those of us who defend liberal arts, or ‘liberal skills’ as Dr. Hein refers to them, are facing an uphill battle to defend what we have, to say nothing of trying to focus education more on liberal arts. And frankly, in the modern world, the ability to exert real control one’s sexuality and reproduction is very much a skill required for a free person to make a life for themselves.

                  Secondly, you correctly identify that your case rests on Civil Rights – the supposed right to be free of education the does not follow one’s morals without having to pro-actively opt out. But as I pointed out to you – secular public education routinely avoids the obvious moral dimensions of every issue. Therefore, no religious or other protected group is having their rights infringed based on their protected status by being potential exposed to information about human sexuality. The education itself does not force, encourage, or allow the practice of any morally objectionable act. Instead, it presents accurate information about a moral issue in a morally neutral way, as it does with every other subject. That is where your argument falls flat – for this to be a civil rights issue, some protected group needs to have their rights violated on the basis of their being part of that group. That is simply not happening here.

                  That said, I quite enjoyed this exchange, and hope to have another in the future. I’m sorry that not every exchange you have had here has not been as – lets say, rhetorically precise.

  • Christian who oppose providing facts about reproduction are stupidly creating the circumstances for increasing unwanted pregnancies, thus abortions. duh.

    • You, and others who object to my case, do so on pragmatic terms, but my case is on the basis of civil rights.

      Pragmatically, making abortion illegal would preserve more human lives, but leftists would object on the basis of the mother’s civil liberties, but denying even the basic right to life for the human within her.

      My case is on the basis of civil rights , and a pragmatic argument cannot deny those rights.

      • so your civil rights argument entails protecting Christian children from information about the biological functioning of their bodies? because you think educators are indoctrinating them into engaging in pleasurable sexual acts as long as they are doing it “safely”?

        I don’t think your perception of what is taught in these classes is accurate, and accurate information is important, that way boys won’t think they’ll go blind if they masturbate and girls won’t think that letting boys penetrate them anally isn’t sex because it doesn’t make babies.

        school absolutely needs to be the place where kids can get accurate information about the full spectrum of sex because our culture is hyper-sexualized, and the only way you are going to insulate good Christian kids from the realities of sex is if you keep them locked in their rooms until they’re 18.

        • I am not interested in keeping kids in the dark. I teach teens proper use of God’s gift of sexuality in their confirmation instruction. I am only opposed to our public schools teaching sex education from an amoral perspective. I would suggest a better compromise. At the parents request, students could be released to churches, medical professionals, or planned parenthood or even home to be taught this topic in a manner which does not indoctrinate a government sanctioned morality.

  • “Spot on. This I believe is the problem in principle with public education. It is why children don’t learn in school. It is why they act as if nothing matters but what feels good at the moment. If you teach everything form a amoral point of view, you teach amorality. Our kids act as they are taught. Education works”, thus spaketh revvy timmy.

    Geez, dude, so schools are “amoral” in your words? Wow. No offense, but you’re goofy.

Support Our Work!


Who Are You Supporting in the Democratic Primary for the Senate

Subscribe Via E-mail

Follow us on Twitter

Send this to a friend