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Rev. Debra Haffner
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The Reverend Debra W. Haffner is executive director of the Religious Institute, a multifaith, nonprofit organization dedicated to sexual health, education and justice. An ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, she is an endorsed community minister with the Unitarian Church in Westport, CT.

Rev. Haffner was the chief executive officer of SIECUS, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, from 1988 through May 2000. Under her leadership, SIECUS tripled in staff size, increased its annual budget revenues more than six-fold, and opened professional offices in New York and Washington, DC. During her tenure at SIECUS, she created the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing; the National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education; the Commission on Adolescent Sexual Health; and the Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education, Kindergarten – Grade Twelve.

Prior to joining SIECUS, Rev. Haffner served as director of education for the Center for Population Options; director of community services for Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington; special assistant in the U.S. Public Health Service; and resource center coordinator of the Population Institute.

Rev. Haffner is the author of From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children; Beyond the Big Talk: Every Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Teens; and What Every 21st Century Parent Needs to Know: Facing Today's Challenges with Wisdom and Heart. She has also authored or co-authored numerous faith-based guides for congregation and clergy on sexuality issues.

Rev. Haffner’s work has been honored by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Yale School of Epidemiology and Public Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, the Association for the Advancement of Health Education, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine.

Rev. Haffner has a master of divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, a master of public health from Yale University School of Medicine and an undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University. In 1996-97, she was a Research Fellow at the Yale Divinity School. She is also a Fellow of the Society for Adolescent Medicine.

Entries by Rev. Debra Haffner

A Time to Embrace: Why the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Movement Needs Religion

(26) Comments | Posted October 20, 2015 | 6:39 PM


On October 20, 2015, the Religious Institute is releasing a new white paper, A Time to Embrace: Why the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Movement Needs Religion. Although mainline and progressive religious leaders played a central role in helping to legalize and...

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Why This Minister Stands With Planned Parenthood

(58) Comments | Posted July 29, 2015 | 3:13 PM

As a woman, as a mother, as a former client, as a former employee, as a colleague and yes, as a religious leader, I stand with Planned Parenthood. I abhor, in the words of PPFA's own Clergy Advocacy Board, "the politically motivated, heavily edited, and secretly recorded videotape...

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Marriage Is an Evolving Institution

(11) Comments | Posted April 30, 2015 | 8:29 PM

I spent this past Tuesday morning as a faithful witness at the U.S. Supreme Court as the justices heard the latest cases on marriage equality. Over the weekend, I offered prayers at congregations in Atlanta and the District of Columbia as part of the National Weekend of Prayer...

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Discrimination Is Never a Religious Value

(53) Comments | Posted March 31, 2015 | 4:54 PM

As the number of corporate , governmental, and sports officials calling for the boycott of Indiana and the repeal of Indiana's expanded so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act grows daily, we are witnessing in real time the sea change that has occurred in America's acceptance...

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Happy 15th Anniversary, Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing

(1) Comments | Posted January 22, 2015 | 5:29 PM


Fifteen years ago, the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing was published in a full page ad in the New York Times, surrounded by the names of more than 800 of the country's leading religious leaders. The Religious...

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Today's Hobby Lobby Decision Is Inconceivable

(66) Comments | Posted June 30, 2014 | 5:00 PM

I did not believe that the Supreme Court could decide that a private corporation had the right to deny its female employees' coverage for routine prescriptions based on its owners' private religious beliefs. I did not imagine that the owners of a craft store would set legal precedent based on...

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Breaking the Silence on Bisexuality in Congregations

(1) Comments | Posted June 24, 2014 | 4:59 PM

This piece was co-authored with Marie Alford-Harkey, Deputy Director of the Religious Institute and lead author with me on the Religious Institute's new publication, Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities.

For too long, even the most progressive faith leaders have ignored the "B" in LGBT, leaving...

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With Liberty and Religious Justice for All

(12) Comments | Posted March 18, 2014 | 1:19 PM

I came of age at a time when birth control was easily accessible and safe, legal abortion had just become available. In my first job in 1976, I helped college students advocate for the delivery of free birth control on their campuses. I could not have imagined then that almost...

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Show Pat Love!

(53) Comments | Posted July 18, 2013 | 5:26 PM

In responding to a viewer who asked if it was okay to 'Like' Facebook photos of same-sex couples, last week 700 Club host Pat Robertson replied that Facebook needs a 'Vomit' button for such pictures. "You've got a couple of same-sex guys kissing, do you like that? Well...

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Where There Is Love, the Sacred Is in Our Midst

(0) Comments | Posted June 26, 2013 | 4:07 PM

As religious leaders, we celebrate the Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality and that the Defense of Marriage Act has been declared unconstitutional.

The faiths we affirm challenge us to speak and act for justice for all who seek to express their love in the commitment of marriage. We...

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Hope and Love: The New Moral Majority

(25) Comments | Posted November 7, 2012 | 12:34 PM

It was a very long, tense election night. But ultimately, hope and love won. Misogyny, racism and homophobia lost. The people of the United States voted, and on sexual justice issues, we are the new moral majority.

Sexual justice seeks to uphold the experience and expression of sexuality...

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Diverse Religious Leaders Affirm Contraceptive Access as 'Moral Imperative'

(272) Comments | Posted September 13, 2012 | 8:25 AM

There is a picture I've seen on the Internet of an elderly woman holding a sign that says, "I can't believe I'm still protesting for birth control." As a woman who came of age in the 1970s era of easy birth control availability, neither can I. Surely, almost 50 years...

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Sex and the Affordable Care Act

(10) Comments | Posted July 2, 2012 | 1:12 PM

The Supreme Court affirmation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a moral victory -- and a victory for sexual and reproductive health and rights. As a religious leader, I believe that access to health care is a fulfillment of the Biblical mandate to take care of all of our...

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Sister Act

(9) Comments | Posted June 5, 2012 | 5:19 PM

Growing up Jewish in the 1960s, my understanding of nuns was shaped by Sally Field on television and Audrey Hepburn at the movies. Sister Betrille and Sister Luke were passionate, courageous and authority defying, as well as loving, caring and dedicated to the poor.

I didn't actually know any Sisters...

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Responding to the United Methodist Church: Sexual and Gender Oppression Cannot Be Defended

(46) Comments | Posted May 8, 2012 | 4:30 PM

I am pleased to announce that the Religious Institute, a multi-faith organization dedicated to sexual health, education and justice, has issued a statement regarding The United Methodist Church's decision General Conference not to remove the doctrinal language that states, "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."


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Religious Leaders Support White House on Contraceptive Coverage

(67) Comments | Posted February 8, 2012 | 12:24 PM

On Feb. 6, Mitt Romney had this to say about the inclusion of contraception as a covered service in health insurance: "Think what that does to people who are in faiths that do no share those views. This is a violation of conscience. We must have a president...

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Meet 2012's Sexually Healthy Seminaries

(4) Comments | Posted February 1, 2012 | 12:53 PM

When I went to seminary, I was surprised to discover how little information there was about sexuality in my courses, and that preparation for dealing with congregants' sexuality issues was mostly absent. A decade later, the Religious Institute's study, "Sex and the Seminary," found that few of even...

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An Open Letter to Cam and Mitchell

(9) Comments | Posted January 20, 2012 | 11:53 AM

Dear Cam and Mitchell:

Can we talk?

I know you can't agree on what to do about Lily's swearing, but after she used the "F" word in your house and at the wedding, it really is time.

First let me assure that this is a very common problem....

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My Top Ten List of 2012 Predictions on Sexuality, Religion, and Public Life

(65) Comments | Posted January 6, 2012 | 2:02 PM

This is the time of year of top ten lists and predictions for 2012. Although I don't have any particular prognostication skills, I do think it's safe to predict that sexuality, religion, and public life will continue to dominate the headlines during 2012. Here are my top 10 predictions:


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Raising Cain on Sexual Harassment

(70) Comments | Posted November 2, 2011 | 11:30 AM

I heard a report yesterday that Herman Cain said he was having a hard time remembering the details of the accusations (and settling) of sexual harassment charges. A male correspondent I heard on another news source said something like, "That happened 20 years ago. Why is it even...

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