District Attorney Puts Lives of Wisconsin Teens On the Line

Crossposted from Amplify

Scott Southworth wants prosecute educators for teaching young people how to protect their health and lives in the era of AIDS.  

In a move meant to terrorize Wisconsin school teachers and scare administrators away from comprehensive sex ed programs, this Republican District Attorney in Juneau County, Wisconsin, has threatened to press charges against sex ed instructors.

At question is The Healthy Youth Act, a measure signed into law this February by Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle. The Act mandates that public school students receive comprehensive sex ed that is medically accurate and age appropriate, and leans on science-based methods that have been proven to work at reducing sexually transmitted infections and unintended teen pregnancies.

Republicans in the state legislature failed to block the bill, so Southworth has launched a one-man vendetta against any teacher or school system that would dare to actually educate Wisconsin teens.

In a March 24 letter, District Attorney Scott Southworth issued a brazen ultimatum to the County’s teachers, demanding that they end any plans to teach comprehensive sex education during the fall 2010 school year and beyond. If the teachers refuse, Southworth has signaled that he will pursue criminal charges against them for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Southworth’s threat constitutes a direct ideological attack on science-based education policy.  More importantly, it’s a shameless assault on the rights of youth — namely, their right to complete, accurate, and honest information about their sexual health.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel broke the story earlier today. Upon examination, Southworth’s apparent legal challenge defies more than logic. In his letter to teachers, he writes:

Forcing our schools to instruct children on how to utilize contraceptives encourages our children to engage in sexual behavior, whether as a victim or an offender,” he wrote. “It is akin to teaching children about alcohol use, then instructing them on how to make mixed alcoholic drinks.

His best argument?  Well, here you go:

[The Healthy Youth Act] promotes the sexualization – and sexual assault – of our children.

Unfortunately for Southworth, decades of research have shown that teaching young people about sex does not cause increased rates of sexual activity…to say nothing of the fact that Southworth has apparently invented an entirely non-existent definition of contributing to the delinquency of a minor in order to frighten the very people he was elected to serve.

And did you catch Southworth’s causation argument above? If you teach public school students about contraception and making responsible choices, you are somehow promoting sexual assault.

In a way, this gutting and politicizing of science and law aren’t surprising. These ideologues use the same old tricks: they prominently point to something designed to scare the public, and pretend that it’s synonymous with something that most people actually (and rationally) support. Marriage equality would be just like trying to marry your dog! Abortion is the same as genocide!

And apparently sex education will brainwash Wisconsin youth into sudden and uncontrollable promiscuity…Just because Scott Southworth says it will! This terrifying prospect of adolescent knowledge and responsibility must be stopped at all costs — even if it means throwing teachers in jail.

Hopefully, school administrators, teachers, parents and young people — not to mention the Wisconsin State Legislature — will stand up to Southworth’s shameless bullying. He may not have legal precedent on his side, but the far-right has proven time and time again that it is willing to attack science in the name of ideology.

But this time, it’s not just about politics. The lives of Wisconsin’s teens hang in the balance.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact press@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • tdreier

    Since you made light of this issue yesterday, I have been corresponding with DA Southworth about this matter. Here has been our email string:


    District Attorney Southworth,

    I understand your concern for Wisconsin’s vulnerable youth and your desire to protect them from themselves. However, your attempt to coerce teachers to refrain from teaching responsible sex education is counterproductive. It is both naive and irresponsible to believe that teens are not going to engage in sexual activity. That is a reality. Comprehensive sex education teaches children how to be responsible and to make informed and educated decisions about their sexual health. This includes teaching them the importance of protecting themselves, from both unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

    Your claim that sex education “contributes to the delinquincy of a minor” is baseless and unsubstantiated, in that there has been no verifiable evidence that sex education encourages or increases sexual activity.

    Also, your attempt to impose your religious ideology on a secular school system is a violation of the First Amendment, which promotes the separation of church and state.

    Therefore, I urge you to rescind your letters to the Wisconsin school districts, in which you threaten to arrest and charge teachers who teach this lawful curriculum. To do otherwise would be a detriment and disservice to our youth, and to society as a whole.

    Thank you for your consideration.


    Ms. Dreier,
    Thank you for your e-mail.  Unfortunately, you miscontrue my letter to the school districts.  My letter does not say what the school districts should or should not include as part of the curricula.  Nor do I impose my personal religious convictions (which actually differ from my legal analysis).  Finally, I never threaten to arrest anyone – in fact, the word “arrest” is never used in the letter (that was added by the media, I suspect to generate more readership).  My letter points out the state of the law, as it stands after the passage of Wisconsin Act 134.  I did not create the legal incongruity – the Wisconsin Legislature did.  I have an ethical duty to notify the school districts in my jurisdiction on the state of the law, my concern for students and teachers based upon the new law, and then leave it to them to decide how to proceed.  While it is true that some children will illegally engage in sexual behavior, .  That is my position, it is supported by the law, and my letter elucidates this in detail.
    If you have not received a copy of my letter, I would be happy to provide it to you.  Please just let me know via a response e-mail and I will e-mail it to you.
    Again, thank you for your e-mail.
    Scott Harold Southworth
    District Attorney
    Juneau County
    District Attorney,

    Thank you for your prompt response.  Yes, I would very much like to have a copy of your letter to the school districts.  We all know how the media can distort and exaggerate the facts, so I would like to see for myself the document in question.

    Still, I find your statement a little troubling: “…we should never encourage this or put our teachers in a position where they must instruct on how to engage in recreational sex.”  Decades of research have shown that comprehensive sex education encourages responsibility, not sexual activity.  Further, teachers will not be instructing their students “on how to engage in recreational sex.”  The Act mandates that students receive medically accurate and age appropriate information, which is based on scientific methods that have been proven to work at reducing sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies.

    If there was any “legal incongruity” in the bill, I highly doubt the legislature would have allowed it to pass.  Still, I welcome a copy of your letter so I can form a more educated opinion on this very important matter.

    Thank you for your time.

    Everyone should do their part and make their voices heard. Contact DA Southworth and tell him what you think.
  • tdreier

    True to his word, Southworth sent me a copy of his letter to the school districts, and it is laden with falsehoods and fear-mongering. After reading it in its entirety, here was my response to him:




    D.A. Southworth,

    Thank you again for your very prompt response.  I have read your letter to the school districts, and it is clear you are interpreting the law through ideological glasses rather than from a strictly legal perspective.  This is truly disturbing.  What is even more alarming is your attempt to scare these public employees with unsubstantiated threats of legal prosecution if they do not comply with your biased wishes.  If you are not able to set your “church” aside in order to practice “state” law, perhaps you should seek another profession.  Hopefully, the electorate will see to that.  I, for one, plan to use the power of my voice to help in that endeavor.

    With regard to your request for my personal information, given our current political climate of violent GOP rhetoric (and in some cases, actual retaliation), you will understand why I do not feel comfortable providing you with that.

    Knowledge is power.  Education is essential for that.  Depriving developing minds of essential information that will improve and protect their health and well-being is not only unethical, it is criminal.  For the sake of our youth and society as a whole, I urge you to reconsider your position on this very important issue.

    Thank you again for your time and consideration.