Making Book on Bill Owens

Questions about the religious right are this GOP candidate's cross to bear--or is that bare?

Another opponent, Lino Lipinsky, chairman of the Bill of Rights Committee of the Colorado Bar Association (and husband of then-state legislator, now-First District Democratic congresswoman Diana DeGette), said the measure would "limit free expression." The measure's proponents, he added, "think the tolerance standard is too high."

Lipinsky warned that tightening the definitions of obscenity could threaten the distri-bution of safe-sex information or such books as Our Bodies, Our Selves. And he dismissed the argument that the bill was necessary in order to prosecute child-porn purveyors. "Would a juror," he asked, "really find child porn 'tolerable'?"

To that, Owens sarcastically responded: "It's ironic that the Bill of Rights Committee is here to stop us from putting the First Amendment in our constitution."

By this point of the hearing, the opposition was coalescing. Katie Pirtle, representing the Colorado AIDS Project and Planned Parenthood, questioned the "underlying motives" of the proponents. Matthew Miller, the general manager of Tattered Cover Book Store, said the measure raised the "specter of censorship."

While Owens labeled the opponents' testimony "hyperbole," Mares tried to pin him down on his real reasons for pushing the measure.

Referring to the more restrictive obscenity standard of "community acceptance," Mares asked Owens, "You're wishing that we were more toward 'acceptance,' not 'tolerance'?"

Owens wouldn't commit, so Mares questioned whether the "acceptance" standard might be applied to, say, homosexuality. Still no answer.

By this time, it was clear that a majority of the senators weren't going to buy this one. On a motion by Mares to "postpone indefinitely" Owens's measure, the panel agreed to do so, 6-3, punctuated by chairwoman Wham's comment, "I've never voted for censorship."

The committee's action in effect killed the bill, thus sparing the whole Senate a touchy vote. But the bill didn't really die.

In fact, the action got hotter. Downright steamy.
Mund and her troops gathered enough signatures to put the measure on the November 1994 ballot. A court threw out their version, so they tinkered with it, again gathered signatures and got it back on the ballot as Amendment 16.

It was easy to get the signatures: Focus on the Family was throwing its big weight behind the measure. The Colorado Springs-based Christian broadcasting empire propagandized heavily for it, and CHILD hired a petition-gathering firm based in the Springs.

Owens stayed out of the colorful campaign. Feisty Arrington, running that year for a state Senate seat, talked in detail about the horrors of gerbil-jamming and bestiality while he accused his opponents of "scare-mongering" about censorship ("Talking Trash," October 19, 1994). Opponents noted Arrington's apparent fixation on women and dogs--together. He was quoted as saying, "A woman having oral sex with a dog and persons inserting small rodents in the rectum--don't tell me that's in the same category with Catcher in the Rye." Bill Armstrong warned of "enormous danger" from "ACLU pornographers and other anti-family forces." CHILD's main financing came from Bill Pauls, the Denver Tech Center mogul who'd helped bail out close pal Bill Walters, a major figure in the S&L fiasco of the Eighties who eventually fled to California and lived on Pauls's money.

Pauls, now a primary developer of land near Denver International Airport, learned his Christian charity at Cherry Hills Community Church, a wealthy evangelical congregation that also claims Armstrong and John Elway as members.

Focus on the Family, which had declared a "culture war" earlier in the decade, had bombarded that church the year before with a "Community Impact Seminar," shocking a packed house with images of KISS's Gene Simmons on a giant screen atop the pulpit saying he wanted to "fuck until my dick fell off." Focus continued to push its theme that there was too much "tolerance" in society, that it's not wise or biblical to tolerate "wrong" ideas and that it should be the goal of every Christian to convince everyone else of this idea.

It didn't work, though. Amendment 16 went down, 63 to 37 percent.

Jamie LaRue encountered Bill Owens more than two years after the 1994 hearing. It was in September 1996, when Douglas County was asking voters to approve increased library funding. LaRue made a brief pitch to the local Republican breakfast club, which was meeting on his home turf at the library; Owens was the main guest.

Afterward, LaRue took Owens on an impromptu tour. "He was most gracious and most complimentary," the librarian recalls. LaRue told Owens about the increasing number of troubling complaints his staff was receiving, like the protest from one patron that Little Red Riding Hood should be pulled from the shelves because Granny takes a drink at the end of it.

Thinking back on that walking tour, LaRue says hopefully of Owens, "If anything, with all this power comes some responsibility."

LaRue and other librarians are worried that the issue will pop up again. Actually, it already has. Amendment 16 was defeated, but that was before everyone plugged into the World Wide Web. Now that libraries have spent millions of dollars to hook up to the Internet, the issue of obscenity is picking up steam. Librarians around the country are wrestling with the problem of what to do about the pornography that comes flowing through the Internet along with everything that's wonderful for their patrons.

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