By Paul Rolly
You almost have to feel sorry for the Utah Eagle Forum folks, those self-appointed moral watchdogs who have the ability to strike fear into the hearts of Republican legislators.
They failed this year to eradicate meaningful sex education from public schools; they have failed to get the State School Board to abandon multistate curriculum standards that aren’t Eagle Forum-driven; they are losing the battle for homophobia; and many of their loyal minions in the Legislature have left or are leaving.
So they are getting desperate to remain relevant.
Their latest salvo: They are shocked and disgusted at Bingham High School’s student production of the play "Dead Man Walking," which, according to the Eagle Forum’s press release, is full of profanity, sexual language, violence, racial slurs, bigotry, political bias and "inappropriate use of biblical teachings."
The first sign of the Eagle Forum’s desperation is the fact that the press release was blasted to media outlets just this past week. The play was performed more than two months ago, in March.
The second sign is that, in my telephone interview with Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka on Friday, it was clear that her impression of the contents of the play and what was actually performed are not even close.
The third sign is that hardly any attempt was made to discuss the issue with Bingham High or Jordan School District officials before the release was sent out in an attempt to create controversy.
The fourth sign is that Ruzicka claims to be representing Bingham High parents concerned about the play and has included with the press release five letters she says are from Bingham parents expressing their concern. But none of those parents are identified. In fact, there is not one identifiable complainant other than the Eagle Forum.
According to Sandy Riesgraf, Jordan School District Communication director, only one person complained to the district about the play. Conversely, the more than 700 parents and patrons who saw the play expressed overwhelming support.
Riesgraf said a meeting was requested with district officials, but the request was not from parents. It was from the Eagle Forum’s Dalane England, who said she was going to bring a group of concerned parents with her. But the night before the meeting, England called up and canceled. She was given the opportunity to reschedule but never did.
The play is based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean, a nun who counseled a condemned killer before he was executed. It was made into an R-rated movie.
Director Tim Robbins wrote the stage play.
Ruzicka, in the interview, displayed she has several misunderstandings. Numerous cuss words in the original play were taken out for the school production, with permission from the author.
The Eagle Forum’s press release talks about racial slurs, but the main character, the condemned killer, was a white supremacist and the student actor who portrayed him spent weeks working with teachers and his parents to reduce the offensive language as much as possible while preserving the reality of the character.
Ruzicka also said students are depicted smoking on the stage, which isn’t true. The main character had a fake cigarette tucked behind his ear, but it never touched his lips. Bingham Principal Tom Hicks said no one has complained to him or to the drama teacher who directed the play. The only criticism is from anonymous folks in the Eagle Forum press release.
"I find that cowardly," Hicks said, noting that not only was the controversy raised more than two months after the performance, but it came during the week of graduation when "we should be focused on celebrating a great year at Bingham."