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HATCH HELPS FUND PORN, CHRISTIAN MINISTRY LEADER SAYS

SHARE HATCH HELPS FUND PORN, CHRISTIAN MINISTRY LEADER SAYS

Donald E. Wildmon started the furor about government funding of obscenity. He attacked subsidies of Jose Serrano's photo of a crucifix in urine, Annie Sprinkle's live sex act show and Robert Mapplethorpe's erotic homosexual photos.

Now he's attacking Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah - the ranking Republican on the committee that oversees the National Endowment for the Arts."It is with deep regret that I must inform you that Sen. Hatch supports government funding of pornography and anti-Christian `art,' " says a letter from Wildmon's American Family Association, a Christian ministry based in Tupelo, Miss.

Hatch calls that letter, which has been sent to hundreds throughout Utah, "nothing but a bold-faced lie." He says it misconstrues his position. He says he opposes funding such art but wants different remedies than what many conservatives favor.

The letter - and attached petitions it asks residents to circulate - resulted in hundreds of complaint letters to Hatch. It also resulted in attacks by other conservative groups that say normally conservative Hatch is out of step with them - again.

In a telephone interview, Wildmon said he is targeting only Hatch with such a campaign "because I really thought he was on our side. I was surprised he wasn't. And I think most people perceive he is on our side."

Groups such as Wildmon's favor abolishing the NEA or placing tight restrictions to prevent funding of obscenity. He has support from such conservatives as Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.

Hatch said he also abhors government funding of such works. But he opposes Congress imposing restrictions. He instead encourages the NEA and its panels of experts to be more careful in screening.

"I've had (NEA Director) John Frohnmayer in here five or six times urging him to do something about the small number of projects with problems. I think that had something to do with the NEA rejecting four grants and putting holds on others," Hatch said.

He added, "Some people out there today would consider works by Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci to also be obscene. That's why I don't favor restrictions to allow extremists to say what is and isn't art."

Hatch also favors keeping the NEA alive. "Without the NEA and its grants, the Utah Symphony would have a tough time surviving, so would Ballet West, Ririe-Woodbury and the rest."

Hatch also proposes forcing people who receive federal grants for works that are proven in court to be obscene to repay the money and be automatically disbarred from future grants.That concerns other conservatives.

Susan Brackin, with the conservative Eagle Forum founded by Phyllis Schlafly, added, "Courts only find something to be obscene if it totally lacks artistic merit. And simply because the NEA funded it in the first place, that would show it had some artistic merit."

She said guidelines from the Supreme Court also call for community standards to determine what is obscenity. "So someplace like San Francisco may not find the gay and lesbian film festival to be obscene, but Utah might. But if it had NEA funding, all taxpayers would help pay for it."

Hatch said that while it would be much easier for him to take a low profile on the issue and vote the way conservatives prefer, he feels that the NEA and art are too important to suffer from overreaction from some poor grants.

He said while the NEA has made tens of thousands of grants through the years, he knows of only 20 or so that have caused such problems. They received a lot press last year when Wildmon started sending copies of the "art" to members of Congress.

Hatch has been in the doghouse with many conservative groups the past year for what are seen as moderate to liberal stances on legislation he has co-sponsored including the Act for Better Child Care, a $5 billion AIDS package and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Hatch insists he is as conservative as ever, and that he has always favored doing what he can to help the helpless - a view he may have picked up as a young Democrat. He switched parties in 1960.

Hatch, in recent years, has also worked more with liberals such as Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Chris Dodd, D-Conn., to favorably affect their bills rather than just complain about them, he said.

Some have questioned whether Hatch is positioning himself more as a moderate to run for president or obtain an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Hatch adamantly denies both rumors.