TRENTON, N.J. — Nancy Hamilton can’t believe her state turned down $800,000 in federal funding.

At a time when local and state governments are trying to make budget ends meet, it’s hard to understand.

But for Gov. Jon Corzine and his administration, apparently, the $800,000 wasn’t worth it, since this particular funding was earmarked for abstinence education in public schools and required that marriage be promoted as the normal place for sexual activity. Since by promoting contraception, schools end up tacitly promoting sexual activity, it also barred teachers from mentioning contraception as an alternative.

With an Oct. 24 letter from state health and education officials, New Jersey became the fourth state to turn down federal abstinence money, after California, Pennsylvania and Maine.

Hamilton, who has three children in public schools in Metuchen, N.J., was offended by her state’s rejection of the funds. “I have children, and I want them to have abstinence education,” she said.

But Fred Jacobs, New Jersey’s health commissioner, said New Jersey already promotes abstinence and that the federal government’s new demands would interfere with the state’s curriculum, which demands that students be taught how to have sex using condoms and promotes contraceptive companies’ products.

New Jersey’s core curriculum content standards encompass the teaching of comprehensive sexuality education as well as a strong focus on abstinence,” said Jacobs.

The state also objects to other stipulations of the federal abstinence funding, Jacobs said. The federal guidelines include the following statements:

— “A mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity,” and

— “Sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.”

“We are concerned that the federal definition fails to acknowledge that there are a variety of different family structures, and the definition is critical of single-parent families,” Jacobs said.

Negligence

George Corwell, who handles education issues with the New Jersey Catholic Conference, was disappointed in the decision by the Corzine administration, but wasn’t surprised.

“This is the mindset that New Jersey has,” said Corwell.

Organizations dedicated to providing teachers and students with great material, he said, “are the ones who are going to suffer.”

Bernadette Vissani works on Project Yes You Can at Columbus Hospital in Newark. She also works with a network of abstinence educators and physicians who are meeting with Corzine about this decision.

“We’re hoping that this isn’t a final decision,” said Vissani. “There is precedent for the New Jersey governors to not apply for this funding. Back in 1996, Gov. (Christine Todd) Whitman did not apply for the grant. But she later reversed her decision.”

Vissani said that New Jersey’s reasons to not apply for the funds would adversely affect health teachers and their students.

“I can say without hesitation that Title V abstinence education has been roundly appreciated,” Vissani said. “The teachers welcome the assistance that abstinence funding provides. They are not prepared to teach this material.”

Vissani also took issue with the reasons that New Jersey chose to not apply for the grant.

“Any school that wants to teach contraception can teach contraception. They just can’t do it in the same class time as the abstinence class time,” said Vissani. She also said that teaching monogamy as the ideal “shouldn’t offend anyone in the classroom.”

“For the state to say that monogamy isn’t the healthiest outcome that we should promote would be professionally negligent,” said Vissani.

If abstinence programs are de-funded, that will only make Nancy Hamilton work harder.

A self-described “soccer mom,” Hamilton first got interested in abstinence education when she brought her teenage daughter to see an abstinence program at St. Peter’s Hospital in New Brunswick.

“For part of the program, they showed a 4- to 5-minute clip of a Pam Stenzel video,” said Hamilton, referring to the abstinence education speaker. “My daughter walked in with her arms crossed asking, ‘Why are we doing this?’ Afterwards she was like, ‘Do you think we could get the whole video?’”

After a quick trip to PamStenzel.com, Hamilton had the DVD and the accompanying book.

She got her pastor to promote the video in confirmation classes at her parish. She said Stenzel captivates the interest of teenagers when she talks about abstinence. And the response at her Catholic parish was electric.

“People were calling the monsignor and said, ‘You have changed my son,’” said Hamilton. “She does talk about it in a way that kids want to hear about it.”

Now armed with Stenzel’s public school version video, she’s working to get the tape shown at the health classes at her daughter’s public school.

“I’m trying to get it to the eighth graders in the school,” said Hamilton. “Last year, the principal said he wasn’t against it, but it was too late in the school year.”

But after New Jersey’s decision, she said, “I need to get moving again.”

She thinks that New Jersey gave an unsatisfactory reason to turn down the federal abstinence dollars.

“We’re not dictating to them that they must be monogamous. We’re saying that monogamy is best,” said Hamilton. “I feel like New Jersey is the laughingstock of the nation with ‘gay marriage,’ (embryonic) stem-cell research, and now turning down nearly a million dollars in abstinence funding. It’s astonishing.”

Joshua Mercer writes from

Petoskey, Michigan.