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Utah faith leaders sound off on sex education
Education » Diverse religions offer diverse views on whether the topic belongs in schools.

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Many members of Cottonwood Presbyterian Church would likely say sex ed should be taught in schools, said Pastor Jeff Silliman.

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"Theoretically, we should be able to get good sex education in our homes, but, practically, that happens in very few homes," Silliman said. He said even if churches provided sex education to kids, as an alternative, that still would reach only a fraction of the population as a whole.

Silliman believes it’s appropriate for schools to cover topics such as contraception, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and homosexuality as part of sex ed.

"It’s part of human sexuality," he said.

It can be tough, Silliman noted, for public schools to teach kids about sex because there’s no universal agreement on the values that should accompany such instruction.

He said abstinence is one way of preventing teen pregnancy and STDs, but schools shouldn’t be dismissive of other options, such as contraception, given people’s differing values.

His church encourages abstinence before marriage, but also believes in forgiveness.

"We encourage chastity before marriage and fidelity in marriage," Silliman said, "but we don’t take people out and shoot them if that’s not what happens."

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Utah’s Catholic schools don’t shy away from teaching about sex either, said Susan Cook Northway, director of religious education for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.

Cook Northway said she couldn’t speak to whether public schools should teach the topic, but noted that Catholic schools teach kids about relationships, respect and morality from a young age. In the diocese’s three Catholic high schools, juniors and seniors learn about sex in a way that’s integrated throughout the curriculum.

They learn about STDs, dating, reproduction and abstinence, among other things.

"We don’t believe in pretending those things don’t exist," she said. "They do, and we’re concerned about people respecting their bodies and keeping healthy."

Contraception is not part of the curriculum.

"That is a matter for families, for parents as the primary educators, to make decisions about what kind of education" their kids should receive. She said parents are considered partners with the classrooms when it comes to what the schools call "family life education."

But she said all the lessons are taught within a larger context.

"It’s all based upon the idea that we’re made in the image and likeness of God," Cook Northway said, "and, because of that, we each have innate dignity, and relationships flow from that idea, so they always involve respect, trust and love."

She said the schools also teach teens not to make decisions based on selfish motives and believe abstinence before marriage is the ideal, though "we also are very aware that not everybody is going to be able to have that ideal operate in their lives for various reasons."

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