Student’s Prop 8 Letter Pulled from BYU’s ‘Daily Universe’

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BYU’s newspaper the Daily Universe pulled a student’s letter that agreed with a federal judge’s ruling on Proposition 8 from its online edition earlier this month, creating a firestorm of protest on several blogs and bringing attention to its writer: a senior pre-med student named Cary Crall.

Crall said that he was moved to write to the newspaper at the LDS-owned school because he had been following the Proposition 8 case closely. On Aug. 4, a federal judge ruled that the measure, which re-banned same-sex marriage in California, was unconstitutional. Both proponents and opponents expect the case to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

In June 2008, LDS leaders called on members in California to donate money and volunteer hours to the ‘Yes on 8’ Campaign. Soon, Mormons across the country added their support, raising over $25 million in support of the controversial proposition.

At the time, Proposition 8 supporters argued that legalizing same-sex marriage in the state would lead to homosexuality being taught in schools and children being confused about gender identity. Crall said he had problems with these points.

“During the campaign I always felt uncomfortable with the arguments that were being used to defend Prop 8 that were called non-religious, rational arguments,” he said. “I felt like they really didn’t have to do with gay marriage, they had to do with education, adoption and not the issue at hand.”

During the campaign, Morris Thurston, a retired BYU law professor, wrote a paper addressing an anonymous flier titled “Six Consequences if Proposition 8 Fails.” In it, he rebutted these arguments and others made by Prop 8 advocates, including that religious-owned adoption agencies would be forced to give children to gay and lesbian couples, and that the LDS Church would lose its tax-exempt status if it refused to perform same-sex marriages.

Crall said he agreed with Thurston that these arguments were “hastily put together and purposely deceitful,” and that he did not like how the campaign asked him and other Mormons “to use those arguments when I was supposed to try and influence my friends to vote for Prop. 8.”

“Even the proponents of Prop 8 recognized they were weak,” he said. “Judge [Vaughn] Walker [who presided over the Prop 8 case] didn’t have to make that decision [to rule against Prop 8], it was made for him,” he added, noting that no witness appeared during the trial “to explain the discrepancy between the arguments used to support Prop. 8 during the campaign and those arguments used during the trial.”

“When the judge called them out I think it was that line in particular that made me really look at how little evidence was available to support those claims,” Crall said.

With these thoughts in mind, Crall said that he was also prompted to write the letter by an Aug. 8 Daily Universe column, “Another Proclamation on the Family.’ In it, summer editor JJ Despain made the following remarks about gays and lesbians, which Crall called “arrogant and needlessly divisive.”

“Even in my short lifetime I have seen the rapid erosion of family ideals and values. I remember when the general public frowned upon the fight for same-sex marriage. Now, the movement is erroneously hailed as the Civil Rights Movement of our generation. And the recent striking down of Proposition 8 in California will further make the supporters of traditional marriage quieter and fewer.”

“They were part of the reason I decided to write the letter,” Crall said. “In my opinion, they were inflammatory towards gays and lesbians.”

Initially, Crall said that Daily Universe editors told him that they “weren’t going to print the letter at that time.” However, the staff that came on at the start of fall semester told Crall that they would like to print his letter as an editorial. Crall said he then sent the paper a revised version of the letter (see bracketed section), which he added to “clear up” a point. The paper, however, printed the first draft.

“My guess is that it could’ve been a deadline thing, that the opinion editor couldn’t run it by the faculty editor in time, or maybe she did and he said that line was a little more inflammatory than the original letter. I’m not sure and I never asked them why they didn’t publish [the second version].”

“But no one went through with a black pen and crossed that section out,” he said.

When Crall discovered that his letter had been pulled from the site, however, he said he e-mailed that same opinion editor to ask what had happened.

“She told me there was a meeting involving faculty,” he said. “She wasn’t a part of that meeting and didn’t know what was discussed, but they had decided to pull it.”

In the letter’s place, the paper published the following statement:

“The Daily Universe made an independent decision to remove the student viewpoint titled “Defending Proposition 8” after being alerted by various readers that the content of the editorial was offensive.  The publication of this viewpoint was not intended to offend, but after further review we recognized that it contained offensive content.

“This is consistent with policy that the Daily Universe has, on rare occasions, exercised in the past.”

The letter’s publication attracted attention from Mormon and ex-Mormon bloggers alike, many of whom praised the paper and the LDS-owned university for supporting free speech. When staff removed the letter from the site, however, that praise turned to anger. The story also grew legs, garnering not only blog posts but headlines across Utah and the country.

“I have been really interested to see where this ended up,” said Crall of this attention. ‘I think overall it’s been a good thing. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback. I’m probably getting four or five Facebook messages a day saying, ‘I read your article. Thank you for writing that.’”

He added, however, that he has been less pleased with how some bloggers have interpreted the story. He mentioned that Pharyngula, a popular science blog written by a self-described “godless liberal,” had held his story up as an example why people shouldn’t attend religious-owned universities.

“I understand their viewpoint but it’s not my viewpoint,’ he said. “It’s obviously out of my hands. I can’t control how it’s used at this point.”

Since the letter’s publication, several bloggers have written that they are concerned that Crall will face repercussions from BYU or his church. So far, Crall said that has not happened.

“BYU or my church leaders have not contacted me at all on this issue,” he said. “There’s just been silence; I haven’t heard anything. I don’t anticipate that I will in the future, but it feels like the time’s kind of past. I don’t think anything I said was against the [school’s] honor code or against LDS teachings and that’s why I think I haven’t heard anything.” As far as he knows, he said the editor who asked to run the piece has not experienced any negative repercussions, either.

Crall also noted that his letter has lead to the creation of a new student newspaper in Provo called The Vanguard, and that editors have asked him to contribute.

Crall also said that he hopes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people don’t think that all Mormons are against them, a stereotype he said that he has heard a lot.

“I don’t feel like I’m the only one who feels the way I do, and the response I’ve gotten since my letter was published reaffirms that. There are many people in the LDS mainstream community who feel the same way,” he said. “I hope the LGBT community understands that not everyone in the LDS Church is intolerant or bigoted. I hope that gives people who feel marginalized by the LDS Church hope or comfort that there’s a lot of conflict going on within the [LDS] community about the Church’s role in Prop 8 and a lot of introspection.”

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