Bishop, Governor Remove Offensive Website

PIERRE, S.D. — The right of a Catholic bishop to communicate with public officials has come under attack by pro-abortion, propromiscuity organizations in South Dakota.

After Bishop Robert Carlson of Sioux Falls wrote a letter to Republican Gov. Mike Rounds, pointing out inappropriate links on a section of the state library website aimed at teen-agers, Rounds investigated the section and asked the State Library Board to take it down temporarily after he found several objectionable components.

In response, Planned Parenthood and the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union have begun a campaign against the bishop's intervention and the governor's action. The website had links to Planned Parenthood and to “Go Ask Alice!”, an explicit, pro-perversion website run by Columbia University.

“I'm a moral leader, not a politician,” Bishop Carlson told the Register. “I think the real issue is whether or not I can bring these issues into the public sector in the exercise of my faith. . . . Do we have the right to teach as the Church, or do we not?”

Whether it is the issue of denying Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians or preventing a government website from promoting abortion to children, Carlson said, the other side doesn't want “religious institutions to teach against the culture.” He noted that the question is not whether law will have moral content, but which content. “Every law that's passed has some moral content to it,” he said.

Rounds, who is Catholic, said in an interview that after he received Carlson's May 12 letter, he looked at the website himself.

“I thought the information on the website was in violatiaon of our state website policy,” he said. “I asked [the state library board] to take them off pending a review.”

Rounds said that he did not take action because a bishop asked him to, but because a resident of South Dakota had raised a valid concern. “I know the bishop,” he said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. But my response to the bishop is the same I would have made to any other resident of this state.”

He said the web links included explicit material, in violation of state policy, and “requests for our children to become politically active and motivated for pro-choice.”

Pro-abortion forces have threatened a lawsuit, but Rounds said, “I don't know what the lawsuit will be based on. . . . There is no one, including no political organization such as Planned Parenthood, that has a right to be advertised on an official state website.”

Asked if he thought anti-Catholic bias motivated the protests, Rounds replied, “I would suspect that the pro-choice side would do anything they could to discredit those who believe abortion is wrong.”

Charge of Censorship

Jennifer Ring, director of the ACLU of the Dakotas, told the Associated Press on July 20, “We are investigating what appears on the surface to be a case of censorship. The government has opened a public forum by including links to websites. When the government opens a forum, it can regulate it in terms of time, place and manner, but not in terms of content.”

“I'm a little shocked it's become such a big deal,” said Robert Regier, executive director of the South Dakota Family Policy Council. He said that grassroots Christians were not aware of the website before, “but they are now. It's not uncommon for Bishop Carlson to get involved like this.”

The whole controversy was actually sparked by Marilyn Mendenhall, a Catholic library media specialist at Huron Middle School in Huron, S.D. She first wrote to the state library board complaining about the site for teens last fall, she said in an interview. She attended two State Library Board meetings to explain her objections. “I thought that they weren't aware of the content and when I told them about the objectionable content, they would say, ‘Oh, thank you,’ ” she said. “Instead, no one agreed with me.” Mendenhall told Bishop Carlson's office about the site, and the bishop eventually wrote the governor.

The state's largest newspaper, the Argus Leader, and the Associated Press have written several stories on Rounds’ decision. The Argus Leader editorialized on July 25: “Our governor should have better things to do than review individual websites to determine if they're appropriate. Rounds also ought to be careful about appearances that he took action, just because someone powerful had access and a librarian didn't. It's very likely that Rounds would have taken the same action, if he'd stumbled on the sites all on his own. He didn't. The appearance is that special-interest influence got access and action.”

“We should present the values that help young people grow into good and faithful citizens,” Bishop Carlson said. “We have ‘True Love Waits’ and other successful programs in this state.” The bishop said that he did not know if there would be a lawsuit, but if one is filed, it would not be directed at him. “I was informed by one law firm that they had been approached by someone,” he said. “They declined to take the case.”

Joseph A. D'Agostino writes from Washington, D.C.