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West Virginia: Telling Lies at George Washington

By Isabella Joslin, SIECUS Program Research Intern

Controversy erupted at Charleston’s George Washington High School, where senior Katelyn Campbell challenged her school’s sponsorship of an information-distorting abstinence-only program. The student has filed for an injunction protecting her First Amendment rights of free speech, to prevent Principal George Aulenbacher from carrying through with threats she says he made against her concerning her plans to attend Wellesley College this fall. Campbell says the principal threatened her academic standing because she publicly critiqued the abstinence program’s shaming tactics and misinformation.

On April 9, teachers at George Washington gathered their students in the school gym for a hastily-arranged assembly program said to be “about sexually transmitted diseases.”[1] In reality, according to Campbell, the event was about “slut-shaming [to] scare students into abstaining from sex.”[2] Her injunction alleges that Aulenbacher arranged the program with barely more than 24 hours’ notice to teachers. The featured speaker, abstinence-only-until-marriage advocate Pam Stenzel, pushed some students to tears and others to posting defiant comments on social media. Stenzel, whose speaker fee was covered by the evangelical Christian foundation Believe in West Virginia, lectured the assembly on the emotional, social, and medical perils of sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage. Although Campbell herself opted out of the assembly,[3] other students who “attempted to leave the upper gym [during Stenzel’s lecture] were told that they must stay for the entire presentation.”[4]

Campbell informed the Charleston Daily Mail of her displeasure with the effect that Stenzel’s confrontational style had on her peers who attended: “She picked on girls who were sexually active. I know there were several girls who left the assembly crying because their feelings were so hurt.”[5] By going public with her criticism, Campbell was called into the principal’s office, where Aulenbacher is alleged to have told her, “I’m very disappointed in you. How dare you go to the media without telling me…How would you feel if I called [Wellesley] college and told them what a bad character you have and what a backstabber you are?”[6] The injunction filed by Campbell posits that Aulenbacher’s threats infringed on her First Amendment rights.

Campbell’s fellow student Tim Smith attended and made an audio recording, capturing Stenzel’s remarks and uploading them to YouTube. Smith commented on the biased nature of the presentation: “I’d like to point out: This is not about which side you believe. The school should provide BOTH sides, if any—comprehensive health education as defined by the state. They failed to do so.”[7]

Smith’s observation is echoed in Campbell’s injunction: “The Kanawha County Board of Education in 2011 directed the use of the curriculum, Reducing the Risk, which is a 16-week, one hour per week course on comprehensive reproductive health education to be used in the school setting… George Washington High School has failed to implement [it] into its health education curriculum.”[8]

In Smith’s audio recording, Stenzel sustains an accusatory tone throughout her talk: “I can walk onto any high school campus. Give me 20 minutes and a mic and let me stand right here and I will show you the girls who are going to struggle for the rest of their lives. I can point them out.”[9] In earlier videotaped remarks that predate her Charleston visit, Stenzel used similar hyperbolic and misinforming scare tactics: “What’s birth control protect you from? Pregnancy. That drug, that hormone that this girl is taking has just made her ten times more likely to contract a disease than if she were not taking that drug. This girl is going to end up sterile or dead. Thanks, mom. Glad you cared.”[10]

Speaking at the Reclaiming America for Christ Conferencein Fort Lauderdale, FL in 2003, Stenzel made her case for ignoring evidence-based sexuality education: “People of God, can I beg you, to commit yourself to truth, not what works… I don’t care if it works, because at the end of the day I’m not answering to you, I’m answering to God!”[11] Nevertheless, Stenzel’s publicist, Colin Hearn, “squarely rejected the notion that her teachings are ‘faith-based’ but said she’s a publicly religious woman.”[12]

Once Aulenbacher’s threats about interfering with Campbell’s college plans went public, a representative of Wellesley College tweeted its official support for the student-to-be: “Katelyn Campbell, #Wellesley is excited to welcome you this fall.”[13] The college’s motto is “Not to be ministered unto but to minister,” and its mission is to “challenge students to explore widely, interrogate closely, and make the creative leaps—synthesizing disparate ideas, perspectives, and experiences—that lead to new levels of understanding.”[14] By asserting her right to free speech and expressing criticism of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, Katelyn Campbell should be right at home at her future alma mater.

[1] “Katelyn McKensie Campbell v. George Aulenbacher,” Kanawha County Circuit Court, April 15, 2013, accessed April 26, 2013, <>. 

[2] Mackenzie Mays, “’Slut-Shaming’ at George Washington High?” The Charleston Gazette, April 11, 2013, accessed April 26, 2013, <>.

[3] Jennifer Smith, “Charleston Student Says First Amendment Rights Violated,” MetroNews, April 15, 2013, accessed April 26, 2013, <>.

[4] “Katelyn McKensie Campbell v. George Aulenbacher.”

[5] Shay Maunz, “Abstinence Presentation Causes Stir at GW,” Charleston Daily Mail, April 11, 2013, accessed April 26, 2013, <>.

[6] Smith, “Charleston Student Says First Amendment Rights Violated…”

[7] Tim Smith, “Pam Stenzel George Washington High School Charleston, WV,” YouTube, April 16, 2013, accessed April 26, 2013, <>.

[8] “Katelyn McKensie Campbell v. George Aulenbacher.”

[9] Smith, “Pam Stenzel George Washington High School Charleston, WV.”

[10] CNN Newsroom, Interview by Carol Costello with Katelyn Campbell, aired April 15, 2013, accessed April 26, 2013, <>.

[11]  Michelle Goldberg, “Pam Stenzel, America’s Abstinence Prophet,” The Daily Beast, April 19, 2013, accessed April 26, 2013,  <>.

[12] Maunz, “Abstinence Presentation Causes Stir at GW.”

[13] Wellesley College, Twitter, April 17, 2013, accessed April 26, 2013, <>.

[14] Wellesley College, “Mission and Values,” accessed May 1, 2013, <>.