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Is Jordan board caving to Eagle Forum?

Published July 14, 2012 1:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said of obscenity: "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it."

Well, I can't prove that the Jordan School Board members who want to apologize for Bingham High School's production of "Dead Man Walking" are just trying to appease a special interest group.

But I know it when I see it.

The play, based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean, a nun who counseled a condemned killer before he was executed and took a hard look at the death penalty, received overwhelmingly positive responses from the more than 700 people who saw it during its short run in March.

But it became controversial more than two months later when the Utah Eagle Forum sent a release to news outlets condemning its content and insisting the subject matter was not suited for student productions.

It's important to know that nobody complained directly to Bingham High Principal Tom Hicks or to the drama teacher who oversaw the project. And Jordan district officials said they only heard of one complaint before the Eagle Forum got involved.

It's also important to note that the two board members who advocated apologizing for the play during a board meeting Tuesday are elected officials who must face re-election.

The folks who did not back down to the Eagle Forum and who patiently explained why the play was approved and the efforts made to balance community standards with the reality of the characters are professionals who are not elected but appointed based on their experience and talents.

And it's important to note that school board elections are overshadowed by the more high-profile races on the ballot, so they are relatively easy to manipulate by groups like the Eagle Forum.

School Board member Carmen R. Freeman said parents weren't aware their children would be performing a story line that contained violence and adult themes until they attended the play and that others were upset it wasn't family friendly and scared young children.

If that's true, then why were there virtually no complaints made to the district or the school until the Eagle Forum piped up two months after the fact? And if parents didn't know what kind of play their children were involved in, where were they when their kids were going to rehearsals?

The Eagle Forum said it had several complaints from parents. But the Eagle Forum never identified them.

Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka told me the play contained profanity and racial slurs and depicted smoking. She obviously hadn't seen it and was unaware it was heavily edited with the author's permission.

The conservative Eagle Forum focuses on morals issues and keeps a strong presence in political and legislative arenas. It has demonstrated the ability to defeat candidates who offend Ruzicka.

The most famous victim of the Eagle Forum was former legislator Nancy Lyon, a pro-life conservative from Davis County whose talents so impressed her Republican colleagues she was seen as potential leadership material in the House.

Then she cast one vote that Ruzicka didn't like. The Eagle Forum organized to defeat her at the next GOP convention.

Perhaps Jordan board members know about Nancy Lyon. —






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