Pageant Permits Promotion of Chastity; Miss America Now Free to Tout issue.(PAGE ONE)

Article excerpt

Byline: George Archibald, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Miss America 2003, Erika Harold, announced in Illinois yesterday that she has won her battle with pageant officials over the right to talk about teen sexual chastity.

Saying that The Washington Times "brought this controversy to the forefront" in an article yesterday, the 22-year-old former Miss Illinois told reporters in suburban Chicago that she is now permitted to talk about sexual-abstinence education as part of her youth-violence prevention platform.

Miss America Chief Executive George Bauer removed the restriction after intense discussions during a trip to Washington, she said.

"I don't think the pageant organizers really understood how much I am identified with the abstinence message," Miss Harold told reporters at a ceremony in Oak Brook Terrace to crown her successor as Miss Illinois.

"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 said.

Mr. Bauer, who accompanied Miss Harold this week on her first visit to Washington since her crowning Sept. 21, has issued no formal statement. Miss Harold said he would issue a statement publicly affirming her freedom to espouse her views on chastity "in the next few days."

Mr. Bauer has not responded to several inquiries by The Times about reports first made by the IllinoisLeader.com, an online journal, that the new Miss America was being muzzled.

"It was silly," Dan Proft, president of the online journal, said yesterday about the controversy. Sexual chastity for unmarried girls "is a great message to send from Miss America."

"What is more fundamental than freedom of expression?" he asked.

Miss Harold could not be reached for comment after her midafternoon press conference in Illinois.

But she told reporters there she became upset during a National Press Club function in Washington on Tuesday because pageant officials told her not to talk about sexual abstinence.

Questioning by The Times on Tuesday about reasons for her silence on the issue, for which she has campaigned at schools and youth appearances for several years, prompted her to reveal that she was being muzzled.

"Quite frankly, and I'm not going to be specific, there are pressures from some sides to not promote [abstinence]," she said.

Sanford A. Newman, president of a group called Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, which sponsored Tuesday's National Press Club appearance, stepped in to stop questions, saying he thought a reporter was "bullying" Miss Harold to determine who was responsible for her silence on teen chastity. …