Religion plays an important role in the lives of American teenagers. A nationally representative sample of 13-17 year olds showed that 84% identify as having a religious affiliation and 6 in 10 attend religious services at least once per month. Notably, about half say that religion is extremely or very important to them in shaping how they live their daily lives. Religious institutions are uniquely poised to connect with teens as well as their parents in order to offer guidance on matters of human sexuality. It is essential that faith leaders take a stand to promote responsible decision-making in their communities and protect the health of Florida teens.
Abstinence-only programs endanger the health and lives of our youth. The abstinence-only-until-marriage approach to sex education has proven ineffective and dangerous. A large body of evidence exists that clearly details the ineffectiveness of this approach. No professional peer-reviewed journal has found abstinence-only programs to be broadly effective. Further, none of the leading national or international public health and medical organizations are supportive of these programs. For these reasons and more, sixteen states across the country have opted out of receiving Title V abstinence-only funding from the federal government.
The Problem in Florida
A University of Florida study released in November 2007 showed that there are no statewide standards for sex education in the state of Florida and that students receive too little information, too late. As a result of abstinence-only programs, Florida teens either get no information or inaccurate information in their classrooms. All too often, then, teens rely on popular culture and peers for information about sex. Florida health educators detail the shocking myths that teens believe and repeat daily, such as drinking bleach to prevent HIV/AIDS transmission or a particular brand of soda to be used as birth control. Teens in Florida need access to the information, skills and encouragement that lead to responsible decision-making about sex. It is essential that faith leaders join the Healthy Teens Campaign to ensure that teens receive this life-saving information from trusted, responsible sources.
Since parents, young people and other community members often turn to religious institutions for guidance on important issues; it is essential that religious leaders remain informed and support a comprehensive approach to sex education in schools. Please read the following Open Letter to Religious Leaders About Sex Education from a colloquium of theologians sponsored by The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing. The document is a detailing of the religious foundations for supporting sex education and lists the religious denominations that support sex education in schools. Further information and thorough documentation is also available from the guidebook A Time to Speak: Faith Communities and Sexuality Education.
Joining on to the Healthy Teens Campaign is just an extension of the fine works religious institutions already take part in, such as teen parenting programs, marriage and divorce counseling, support groups, AIDS pastoral care and aid to survivors of sexual abuse. In many communities across the state, support from religious leaders can make a difference in ensuring that teens receive comprehensive sex education in their classrooms. Click here  to join us.
 National Study of Youth & Religion, 2002-2003
 Guttmacher Institute
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
 Florida Department of Health