Scott Southworth is at it again

Scott Southworth, the district attorney of Juneau County, Wisconsin, is threatening to prosecute teachers who comply with a new state law that requires sex education courses to include “medically accurate, age-appropriate” information, including information on contraceptives. Southworth claims the law “promotes the sexual assault of children,” “[u]ndermines parental authority,” “requires school districts to condone controversial sexual behavior,” and “provides access to our children by the contraceptive industry.”

This is the same Scott Southworth who, as a student, sued the University of Wisconsin in 1996 over student activity fees that might be used to advance “political and ideological expression offensive to [his] personal beliefs.” He was apparently happy to accept the benefit of a state-supported education, but not the fact that the university serves students with a wide variety of views. The US Supreme Court ultimately rejected Southworth’s claims, holding that there was no constitutional violation because the university did not favor some views and beliefs over others in allocating funding for student activities.

Southworth apparently didn’t learn from his defeat in the Supreme Court, because he’s at it again, trying to impose his view of sex education on all. He thinks age-appropriate teaching about sex “encourages our children to engage in sexual behavior.” Southworth makes a number of other outrageous, unsupported claims. He says that sex education undermines “high moral standards,” that it “sexualizes our children as early as kindergarten,” and that it “will lead to more child sexual assaults.”

Not only do these claims lack any factual support, they obscure the more important fact that sex education — including information about contraception as well as abstinence — has been repeatedly shown to be the most effective way to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. The state legislators who enacted the statute understands this — and so do most of their constituents who are parents. Polls consistently show that parents favor sex education that is not limited to abstinence because they think it helps students make better, more informed decisions. If we’re concerned about the welfare of our kids and helping them learn to make responsible choices as they become young adults, we need to provide them with more accurate information, not less. This is precisely what the Wisconsin law is trying to accomplish.

To those who claim that sex is something parents should teach their children, consider those parents who don’t. Should their kids be condemned to ignorance? What about parents who aren’t knowledgeable enough to teach all the facts about sex and sexual health: should their kids be condemned to ignorance? What about the parents who simply don’t feel comfortable talking to their kids about sex, so they don’t: should their kids be condemned to ignorance? Finally, what about the kids who avoid the topic with their parents, because they know that their parents will tell them they’re too young to know, or that that they’ll find out everything they need to know when they get married?

District Attorney Southworth objects that the course will require discussion of “controversial issues that will likely conflict with the religious beliefs and values of most Juneau County families.” So now he’s arguing that the majority’s religious views should control what students learn in public schools. The Supreme Court already rejected that argument too, writing that “minority views [must be] treated with the same respect as are majority views.” Those parents who do not share Scott Southworth’s “religious beliefs and values” are entitled to equal respect for their views. These schools, like the University of Wisconsin, are there to serve the needs of all students, not just the ones who agree with the local DA.

This is a shameless attempt by a public official to intimidate others in an effort to force his personal moral and religious views on the entire community. It’s not good enough for Southworth that students whose parents don’t want them to attend sex ed class can be excused. And this is from someone who argued all the way to the Supreme Court that his rights were violated if even a fraction of his student fees went to a student activity he didn’t agree with. Southworth fought in the Supreme Court to defend his right to his own beliefs, but he’s still trying to deny that very right to those who disagree with him. He doesn’t seem to understand the concept of irony. Or maybe he missed class the day it was taught.

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