Silencing Abstinence

Christians also are criticized and sometimes pressured to keep silent when they advocate abstinence before marriage. The 2002 Miss America, Erika Harold, a devout Christian, made her views supporting abstinence well known when she promoted the cause to teenage girls in her home state of Illinois. Indeed, she won the Miss Illinois contest in June 2002 on a platform of "Teenage Sexual Abstinence: Respect Yourself, Protect Yourself." But Miss America pageant officials pressured her not to talk publicly about her views. At a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., when officials tried to keep reporters from asking Miss Harold about her abstinence message, she said, "I will not be bullied. I've gone through enough adversity in my life to stand up for what I believe in." Officials had instructed her to talk only about youth violence prevention. "They laid it on her coming over here" not to promote teen chastity, said one of her friends. "She's furious about it."

Sandy Rios, the president of Concerned Women for America, said the efforts to muzzle Harold constituted "blatant censorship that betrays religious bigotry among pageant officials In an age when beauty queens are regularly disqualified for inappropriate behavior, who would have thought that a virtuous one would be silenced for virtue?" A day later, Harold announced that she had won her battle with pageant officials and would be permitted to talk about abstinence. "I don't think the pageant officials really understood how much I am identified with the abstinence message," said Harold. "If I don't speak about it now as Miss America, I will be disappointing the thousands of young people throughout Illinois who need assurance that waiting until marriage for sex is the right thing to do."

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