Abstinence advocacy group kicked out of Chicago schools

The Florida Times-Union / July 24, 2000

CHICAGO -- A sexual abstinence advocacy group with ties to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church has been barred from Chicago public schools after administrators found the group had presented a controversial curriculum in sex education classrooms without proper approval.

The Pure Love Alliance (PLA) launched a nationwide promotional tour of 300 avowed celibate teenagers last week with a goal of introducing its curriculum in all 50 states by next year. The organization says it has presented its abstinence program in 61 Chicago schools in the last school year with the consent of teachers and made presentations in high schools in Miami, Los Angeles and Alabama.

Several organizations, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/ PUSH Coalition, have criticized the program as being based on an unsound curriculum and targeting black communities with a message of "fear and shame." Other critics have claimed the involvement of Unification Church members violates the separation of church and state. The founder and president of the program said school officials banned Pure Love because the PLA's instructors belong to the Unification Church. He accused the program's critics of conducting a witch-hunt.

The Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, which supports comprehensive sex education but not abstinence only, said the Pure Love program advocates, among other things, "absolute sex," which the caucus said was defined by the Unification Church as sexual relations exclusively carried out with a spouse assigned by the church. "Our students need an education that gives them complete information about health, not an opportunity for religious recruitment," said Jenny Knauss, caucus executive director.

Robert Kittel, Pure Love Alliance president, said his group does not teach "absolute sex," although he acknowledged the term is used in some of its publications. Because the term is "causing confusion," it will be deleted from Pure Love literature, Kittel said. "Arranged marriages are not part of our program," he said.

Knauss said that many recognized health groups, including the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization and the Institute of Medicine, have found abstinence-only programs to be medically inaccurate and of limited value. She said her group's stand against the Pure Love curriculum has been endorsed by the Illinois PTA and Planned Parenthood. Lisa Henry-Reid, head of adolescent medicine at the Cook County Children's Hospital, said such programs are dangerous because they fail to meet the needs of young people who are already consensually active.

Kittel condemned the decision by Chicago schools chief Paul Vallas to no longer allow the group's instructors into the classrooms. "Why are we being pulled out of the classrooms? It's only because of our religious faith, because the Unification Church is an unpopular religion and they thought we'd be an easy target," Kittel said. Kittel, who, like the PLA's other two founders and most of the abstinence-only instructors, is a member of the church, said: "We violated no school laws, we have not engaged in religious instruction and we have not tried to convert or proselytize anybody." He denied the PLA has any ties to the Unification Church other than common membership and said it raises its own funds as a separate non-profit, tax-exempt group. He accused the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health of conducting a witch-hunt because of religious prejudice. "Their issue is the safety and well-being of one sector of society -- gays, transsexuals and bisexuals," Kittel said. The PLA has not taken a stand on homosexuality, he said, but added, "I believe the misuse of heterosexual sex is a worse problem than homosexuality."

Kittel predicted that hundreds of civic, religious and political leaders would defend the Pure Love curriculum because of their outrage that sex education in public schools has been stripped of any moral content. An abstract of the 10-session Pure Love curriculum on the group's Web site asserts that conventional sex education has been ineffective and has been detrimental to teenagers. "Human sexuality was treated just like animal copulation: It is uncontrollable. It just happens," the guide says. It also contends that "providing children with a moral framework in which to make the right choices is not religion, it is good decision-making."

Lee Milner, a spokesman for the Illinois Education Department in Springfield, said that an amendment to a 1965 law requires that sex education courses include abstinence as an acceptable behavior, but does not provide for teaching abstinence only. He said there would be no reason to exclude Unification Church members as volunteer instructors "as long as they aren't teaching religion."

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