The Reverend Debra W. Haffner is the director of The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing. A sexuality educator and advocate for more than twenty-five years, she was ordained as a Unitarian Universalist minister in 2003 after receiving her Masters of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary. The Reverend Haffner is the former President and Chief Executive Officer of SIECUS, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. During her twelve years of leadership there, SIECUS expanded its staff significantly and increased its annual budget. SIECUS also opened its offices in New York and Washington, DC during that time. In 2001 Rev. Haffner co-founded the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing with Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield.
Recently Rev. Haffner appeared on the O'Reilly Factor to discuss the importance of introducing elementary school children to sexuality education. O'Reilly criticized Haffner's use of the word "uterus" in explaining pregnancy and birth to kindergarteners, claiming that it was too explicit for children that age. Haffner responded that using correct terminology and providing accurate information are vital in establishing open communication with children. "Sexuality education is a religious issue," Rev. Haffner stated. "We have a commitment to helping young people develop a moral conscience, including an ability to make healthy decisions. We have a religious commitment to truth telling, which means that people should have full and accurate information, not biased and censored."
Rev. Haffner was quoted recently by The New York Times regarding the decision Maryland schools made to offer lessons on homosexuality as part of its sexuality education program. Offering her support of this decision, Haffner refuted the argument that offering these lessons might influence students' behavior rather than simply offer neutral information. She stated, "It's a myth that our schools don't teach values about lots of things. We don't put communism, socialism and capitalism on an equal footing in our classes on government."
In collaboration with the New England Adolescent Research Institute (NEARI), Haffner developed a course entitled Balancing Acts that is designed to train ministers and other religious professionals in how to keep children and youth safe from sexual abuse. Rev. Haffner works frequently with congregations who are struggling with including sex offenders in their congregations, and in this program, she addresses the concerns these faith communities face when discerning how to discern appropriate involvement for these individuals. It suggests the formation of a "limited access agreement" to determine what activities the individual may participate in and suggests rules and guidelines to prevent the occurrence of future abuse. "Every place of worship needs a safe-congregation policy," Haffner said.
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