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“I would hate for an organization to try to latch onto my visibility to promote their own agenda, especially if it’s something that I wouldn’t agree with.”

So said Miss America Erika Harold to a Washington Times reporter last week when asked about her partnership with the Anti-Defamation League. Harold was speaking about her collaboration with ADL on her youth violence prevention platform, clearly distancing herself from ADL’s recently launched campaign advocating gay rights.

“One of the things that I make very clear when an organization wants me to work on their behalf is they support me in my platform. It doesn’t mean I support them in their agenda in every other social issue,” said Harold. “I don’t know that they would support my views on abstinence. We haven’t had that discussion because we’re focused in that capacity on youth violence prevention.”

But for all intents and purposes, Harold could very well have been referring to her battle with the Miss America Organization, who not only shirked her views on abstinence but downright prohibited the former Miss Illinois from speaking publicly on the subject. That is, until the Times printed a front page article detailing the censorship hidden away from the media spotlight.

That article liberated Harold, who subsequently told reporters that Miss America Chief Executive George Bauer lifted the restrictions and would enable her to speak on abstinence.

“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,” she told reporters.

Speaking to thousands of young people is what Harold has been doing, visiting classrooms, making appearances at fairs and rallies and even a correctional facility to promote abstinence. She traveled more than once to the nation’s capitol to lobby legislators for an increase in abstinence-until-marriage program funding and even submitted written testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee this year.

“Initially, I thought the kids were going to boo. I expected they were going to just laugh me right on out,” she said of her many chastity talks. “But I will tell you, the kids came up after me and said, ‘You know what, I’m glad that you came to tell me this because you made me realize that I have hope, that even if I’ve made decisions that I wasn’t proud of, that I don’t have to be confined by them. I can still make a positive decision in the future.'”

How unfortunate, and telling, that Harold can garner more respect from teenagers than from the Miss America Organization, the very group that seeks to promote role models for today’s youth.

After all, this is their beauty queen, their shining star, their go-getter!

What does the Miss America Organization expect from an intelligent woman headed for Harvard Law School and a career in public policy? Do they really think they can herald themselves as the world’s leading provider of scholarships for young women while simultaneously silence the very woman they chose for her intelligence, charm and impassioned beliefs?

Kate Shindle never had this problem. But then again, Kate Shindle never talked about abstinence.

As the 1998 Miss America, Shindle promoted condom distribution in schools and needle exchange programs as part of her HIV and AIDS awareness platform. Incidentally, the Miss America Organization’s website directs viewers to pick up a copy of Shindle’s recently released CD at Virgin Records – perhaps their only comfortable association with the term.

But now they have a different Miss America on their hands. Instead of swapping needles and passing out condoms, this one wants to promote abstinence – the only fool-proof way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

“One of the things that the CEO of the Miss America Organization said to me is, ‘Whatever you say, you own it and you have to take responsibility for it,'” Harold told reporters before she won her right of free speech with pageant officials.

But owning her words never had been a problem for Harold, at least not before being crowned Miss America. Hopefully, it never will be again.

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