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Salutary education

We more than you might expect with Bryan Fischer’s latest argument on Idaho legal/education/sex policy. Let’s open with excerpts from his Idaho Values Alliance blog:

In many states, including Idaho, sex outside marriage is against the law, and that includes consensual sex between teenagers. Sex outside marriage, whether “fornication” or “adultery” from a legal standpoint, is punishable by both a fine and imprisonment.
Yet educating teens about the legal risks they run if they become sexually active before marriage is a topic that is rarely if ever discussed in sex ed classes. I’m guessing educators show less restraint in making students aware of the legal risks of drunk driving or possession of drugs, but common sense dictates that making young adults aware that their behavior is not only dangerous but also illegal ought to be a part of a thorough education. . . .

Most teens and many parents in Idaho are most likely unaware that consensual teenage sex is a crime. Idaho lawmakers adjusted our sex offender statutes to include a “Romeo and Juliet” exception that keeps a young man who is a statutory rapist from being required to register as a sex offender, but when a male of any age – including a teenager – has sex with a girl under the age of 18 he is guilty of rape under Idaho law, whether the sex was consensual or not. Idaho law requires that he be sent to prison for no less than one year.

Fischer’s point that sex outside marriage violates Idaho law is correct (see most specifically the law against fornication), also that the law is rarely enforced (there have been a few occasions) and he probably is right too that relatively few Idahoans know any of this.

We have strongly believed for a long time that a basic crash course in law – civil and criminal, law as it affects ordinary people moving through society – for a semester or two ought to be a basic component of public education at the high school level. The idea that we’re supposedly educating a corps of citizens who derive most of what they know about the law from TV shows is appalling. We’d not argue at all with Fischer’s suggestion that the law as it relates to sex might be a slice of that course.

We have the suspicion, though, that a good many educated Idahoans would likely react rather differently than Ficher anticipates: They might be inclined to repeal the laws. (Some of which might be constitutionally defective anyway; we suspect the fornication law, for example, probably would not survive a federal court challenge.)

We also suspect something else, that Fischer might do well to take look westward to the town of McMinnville, Oregon, which is just starting to emerge from a recent statewide controversy. The controversy has had to do with boorish behavior on the part of a couple of middle school boys, swatting several girls at school on the rump and otherwise acting up. That activity (part of a pattern of “party boy” activity) got the attention not only of parents and school officials but also the Yamhill County prosecutor, who proceeded to charge the boys with felony sexual harassment violations. The community and then the state (the story has been heavily reported statewide) erupted in outrage. The very broad consensus was that the boys acted badly and should have been punished, but that this should have been a matter for parents and educators, not prosecutors and courts. Under intense pressure, the prosecutor finally (after months of negotiation) dropped the case on Monday.

There’s also the point the Idaho Statesman‘s Kevin Richert brings up: “Does anyone really want to pay additional property taxes to hire cops and deputies to work the sex beat and pay the county prosecutors to take these cases through the courts? Does anyone really want to pay to build the jail and prison cells needed to carry out the maximum sentences Fischer extols on his blog — a six-month term for ‘fornication,’ or a three-year hitch for adultery.” (If enforcement were “consistent,” we’d have to be locking up a very large piece of the population.)

So when Fischer concludes, “Perhaps classroom education and consistent and visible enforcement of existing Idaho law would have a wonderfully salutary effect on sexual mores and sexual conduct in the Gem State,” we would tend to . . . agree. In the long run, that is, which is not in the way Fischer would intend . . .

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