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Tucked into the back pages of Gov. Gary Herbert's $16 billion budget is a request for $50,000 to fund statewide anti-pornography efforts the first time in more than a decade that taxpayer money has been directed toward such a purpose.
The request, buried on page 92 of the governor's annual budget request to the Legislature, would grant the money to the Utah Coalition Against Pornography, a private nonprofit group that hosts annual conferences and conducts seminars on preventing children from seeing pornography and helps spread information about recovering from pornography addiction.
"I am already on the record that pornography is a public-health issue," Herbert said. "This effort is an effective way to empower parents with practical methods to protect their families from the dangers of pornography."
Pamela Atkinson, board chairwoman for the coalition and a close adviser to Herbert on homeless and poverty issues, said the funding will enable UCAP to hold seminars in schools around the state and expand its annual conferences and educational mission.
"The bottom line is that the incidence of pornography is growing despite all the efforts of so many people in the world and around the country," she said. "[The money] is needed for educating the public and parents in terms of what we can do and what resources are available."
During the last legislative session, Utah became the first state in the country to pass a resolution calling pornography and its effects a "public health crisis." But that resolution was largely ceremonial and did nothing to change the law or dedicate resources to the cause.
If the Legislature adopts the governor's recommendation, it would mark the first time in more than a decade that public money has been committed to anti-pornography initiatives. Much of UCAP's funding comes from prominent financial backers like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Eccles Foundation and The Sorensen Foundation.
And it would be the most focused effort by government to combat pornography since the state hired the first-of-its-kind Utah's Obscenity and Pornography Complaints Ombudsman commonly called the Porn Czar within the attorney general's office, an experiment that made national headlines when it was tried in 2001, only to be scrapped amid budget cuts two years later.
Andrew McCullough, the chairman of the Utah Libertarian Party and an attorney who has represented adult businesses in the state, said it is a waste to spend taxpayer dollars combating pornography.
"It's a bunch of I'm trying to think of a word you can print," he said. "In the greater scheme of things, the governor would say, 'that's not a lot of money,' but it is a lot of money if you're throwing it down a rat hole or using it to interfere with my personal freedoms. So no, I don't like it even slightly."
McCullough called it a feel-good measure and, while UCAP might bring in more speakers and hold bigger conferences with nicer food, "we all know it's a waste and they're not going to accomplish anything and we all know there's a real threat there a threat to personal freedom."
But Atkinson said that pornography is pervasive and damaging. She cites studies that said 93 percent of boys and 61 percent of girls see pornography online during their adolescence and those who view pornography are more likely to participate in risky sexual behavior and have a greater risk of sexual abuse.
And pornography opponents contend that pornography users are less likely to get married, less satisfied with their marriage and more likely to engage in extramarital affairs.
"Marriages are being destroyed by these addictions to pornography," Atkinson said. "There's a lot of evidence of that."