Sex Ed: Can't Touch This, Says Abstinence Program Head | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Sex Ed: Can't Touch This, Says Abstinence Program Head

Denny Pattyn, head of Silver Ring Thing, is "actually thrilled" about the ACLU's Feb. 21 settlement with the federal government concerning their abstinence-only sex-ed program, he says.


Based in Ohio Township, Silver Ring Thing for years has been promoting sexual abstinence to teens through a sound-and-light show based on Christian faith and the Bible.


The program will lose its federal funding, the settlement says, unless Silver Ring Thing does a better job of separating the program's religious content -- the study Bible, the rings engraved with a New Testament message, and on and on -- from the secular program offered as one segment of the show.


But Silver Ring Thing has no intention of changing, Pattyn says, because it has no intention of seeking any more government grants. The feds stopped the flow of money in August and lopped off the program's grant at the end of January -- but by then, Silver Ring Thing had already spent the entire $1.2 million granted by the government over the last three years, Pattyn says. The mission of spreading the gospel of abstinence-through-faith nationwide is accomplished, he adds.


The ACLU, which sued the government last year, says this settlement means similar faith-based groups will no longer be able to promote religion with federal dollars.


"To our knowledge, this is the first time that the federal government has stopped the funding of an abstinence-only group for the promotion of religious activity," says the ACLU's lawyer on the case, Julie Sternberg. "The critical thing is that the federal government has recognized and acknowledged that federal funds may not be used to promote religious activity."


But Pattyn remains satisfied, since the settlement dismissed the ACLU's lawsuit, left Silver Ring Thing with all its funding and will still allow the program to apply for more government largesse -- if it ever changes its ways. With 50 shows already on the schedule, Pattyn says, that's unlikely.


Barb Feige, director of the Pittsburgh ACLU chapter, doesn't believe their settlement is a victory for Silver Ring Thing. Even if this local program doesn't apply for funds, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will still be giving out millions of dollars for sex-education programs. Concludes Feige: "Then hopefully those funds ... will be going to more appropriate programs."

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