Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford, currently running for reelection, has yet to back down from an endorsement of the city’s controversial abstinence education group Project SOS.

Project SOS has faced scrutiny in recent weeks. The group’s founder, Pam Mullarkey, has questionable ties to Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa, a vocal advocate for that country’s 2009 “Anti Homosexuality Bill” (.pdf), nicknamed the “Kill the Gays” bill.

The federally funded group, which promotes abstinence in both public and private schools, has also been criticized for disseminating false information about HIV and AIDS.

Its “Go APE (Abstinence Protects Everyone)” curriculum was deemed “unacceptable” (.pdf) in overall content by the American School Health Association and was mentioned in a Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States report for teaching misinformation about HIV and AIDS.

The group is well known along the First Coast, where several prominent elected officials have endorsed its work. One such official is Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford, who is currently running for reelection.

Project SOS’ website cites a shining endorsement from Rutherford:

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is greatly appreciative of Project SOS in strengthening our youth and educating our parents. We applaud their statistics and success as well as their dedicated service to our community. Project SOS helps raise young boys and girls to become non-violent young men and women.

It is unclear whether Rutherford still supports Project SOS in light of the new information that has surfaced about the organization. As of press time, calls made to both his campaign office and to the public affairs department of the Sheriff’s Office went unreturned.

Duval County elections will be held Tues., March 22. Rutherford is currently being challenged by former Public Information Officer Ken Jefferson, accountant Soren Brockdorf and write-in candidate Curtis Southerland.

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