Friday, April 13, 2018

Sex Ed and SB 65

Recently, fellow legislators and I have been the target of some friendly fire (optimistically speaking) in relation to a bill that I sponsored and carried in the Indiana House, Senate Bill 65, Instruction on Human Sexuality. These are the facts concerning the actions that I and the House took in relation to this bill.

SB 65 was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Dennis Kruse, a longtime friend and ally with whom I have sponsored other legislation such as SB 101 in 2015, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). This year, while the final passed version of SB 65 was different from the introduced version, much of the bill was left intact, contrary to the claims that it was “gutted.”

Let me be very clear: The final version of the bill strengthens parental rights in Indiana. Examples: Schools will now be required to inform and notify parents whenever a sex education class is taught. Schools will now be required to allow parents to inspect all instructional materials related to sex education and inform them of their legal right to do so. Further, schools must now seek parents’ consent before teaching sex-ed. Many of the claims out there about the final version of the bill are totally false and the definition of “fake news.” See here. Incredibly, some of the claims made in this "story" state the exact opposite of what the bill does! I sincerely doubt these individuals ever read the final bill or if they have, they have misrepresented the actual law.

The fact is, there were two changes made in the House Education Committee in relation to two parts of the bill about which I and others had concerns.

First, the original version of the bill included, along with sex education, anything taught in relation to “sexual orientation and gender identity” (SOGI). (I have not been shy over the course of my service in the Legislature regarding what I believe about these issues. I was an outspoken supporter and co-author of the marriage amendment, and have publicly stated my divergent view with the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. I stand morally and politically opposed to all sex outside of natural marriage or identifying as a gender that is different from one’s biological sex.)

At the outset of agreeing to carry the bill in the House, I expressed reservation about including SOGI as part of sex education. As time passed my concerns only grew as I realized that many parents, in innocently giving their consent for sex education, could also be giving consent for their children to be taught homosexuality and trans-genderism on the same form. Further, by including SOGI language for the first time in relation to sex education, state law would presume that teaching SOGI is a normal part of sex education, which is by no means the case and is not a legislative intent that we desire to convey. (See below for Indiana’s law in relation to sex education.) Therefore, in Amendment #22, which I offered in the House Education Committee, we removed “sexual orientation and gender identity” from the bill.

The second change came as a result of the public testimony of two organizations that are dedicated to teaching solid abstinence-only based sex education in many Indiana schools. These two organizations alone teach tens of thousands of students in Indiana abstinence-until-marriage sex education according to state law. These organizations are Clarity based in Columbus, Indiana and CPR (Creating Positive Relationships) operating in Central Indiana. These organizations are led by conservative, pro-life, Christian people seeking to make a positive difference in the lives of young people and assist schools by providing sound, abstinence-only based sex education.

The primary concern of these organizations with the original SB 65, was that many young people have completely disengaged parents (a sad, though common thing in today’s culture). Disengaged parents would simply fail to return a consent form, thereby denying their child the only abstinence based sex education they might ever have received. Arguably, it is children from these homes that need the abstinence based instruction the most as they are clearly not getting it at home and are being constantly encouraged toward promiscuity through pop culture. These groups strongly urged us to use “opt-out” language. (Read Creating Positive Relationships statement here.) 

Despite this, I remained reluctant to go from a strictly “opt-in” to a strictly “opt-out” provision. After much testimony and discussion, we took a middle ground approach. Under the House version of the bill signed into law, parents will receive a form informing them of the upcoming class and their right to inspect all of the class materials, a summary of the content of the class, and asking whether they consent or decline the instruction for their child and a request for their signature. In most schools, this form will be provided to the parents when they register their child at the beginning of the school year. When a parent completes this form, the school must abide by that decision. However, if for whatever reason the parent fails to complete the form one way or the other, the school is not free to place the child in the class. Rather, after 21 days the school must send the parent a second form seeking their consent. After 10 more days, if the parent still fails to respond, the child will receive the class. Yet, at any time the parent retains the right to withdraw their child.

These two changes were supported by myself as well as my co-sponsors of the bill, Representatives Jeff Thompson and Dale DeVon.

I know that some of my advocate friends did not agree with the changes and would have preferred the strict consent requirement. But they alone do not speak for the conservative perspective. There are other groups just as Christian, conservative, and pro-family as they that felt differently. As legislators, we are in the uncomfortable position of not being able to make everyone happy all the time. Yet, we try to hear everyone out and use our best judgment. And I trust that my overall stands for the past eight years make my moral and philosophical beliefs abundantly clear.

One final note. I want to encourage parents to be constantly vigilant about what is being taught in your child’s school and, perhaps more importantly, who is teaching it. You should know all of their teachers. You should inspect all of their textbooks. And you should not hesitate to intervene when your Christian faith or morality is undermined. It’s your right. It’s your responsibility.

In God we Trust,

Representative Timothy Wesco

NOTE: Indiana has a strong “abstinence-only” law for sex education.
IC 20-30-5-13 Instruction on human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases
     Sec. 13. Throughout instruction on human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases, an accredited school shall:
(1) require a teacher to teach abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard for all school age children;
(2) include in the instruction that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems; and
(3) include in the instruction that the best way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and other associated health problems is to establish a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage.