- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2009

It was hard not to feel sorry for Carrie Prejean when she walked into the National Press Club last week. Here was a young woman whose only ambition before the night of April 19 was to be Miss USA.

Then an openly gay judge lobs a question on homosexual marriage that had no place in a beauty pageant. The 21-year-old said she believed marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

For that, the judge scored her a 0, perhaps causing her to lose the competition (certainly, the gay judge took the credit for her first runner-up finish). Later he lobs obscenities at her on his blog. Did the pageant disqualify the judge and move Miss Prejean up to first place - or at least a shared crown with Miss North Carolina (who ended up winning)?

Nope. Instead, tycoon Donald Trump, who helped select gossip columnist “Perez Hilton” as a judge, defended the judge’s question.

Now her own state pageant officials have turned on her. Keith Lewis, the co-executive director of the Miss California USA pageant, has written that “religious beliefs have no place in politics in the Miss California family.”

Really?

Pageant officials have been complaining that Miss Prejean is not honoring her contract, but is there anything written therein that sets out a required set of political or religious beliefs for the contestants?

Why haven’t Miss California USA officials even once stood up for Miss Prejean? What if it had been a conservative judge lobbing a loaded question at a liberal contestant?

Remember the pairs figure-skating competition at the 2002 Olympics, where a French judge confessed to altering her scores to ensure the Russian pair beat the Canadians? The judge was suspended for misconduct and the Canadians’ silver medal was upgraded to gold.

Why didn’t something similar happen with the Miss USA pageant?

Last week, Miss Prejean took to the talk shows to defend herself. She made a brief Washington appearance on behalf of the National Organization for Marriage. Dressed in a black leotardlike top, gray slacks, high heels and a jangly silver necklace that flashed in the TV lights, she was understated but striking.

I asked her about her religious beliefs and whether she had political ambitions. Another journalist asked her about reports of breast implants. Another reporter asked her whether she would only date ex-gay men. Appalled at the weirdness of some of these questions, she refused to answer the latter two queries and walked out.

The atmosphere did feel like a witch hunt. And that was in the District, a more conservative locale than California, which is becoming a very - shall we say edgy - place for people of faith.

If you’re a Mormon who voted for Proposition 8 against gay marriage or donated to the cause, your church risked vandalism or picketing. Contributors also had their names, addresses and maps of their neighborhoods posted on the Internet.

If you’re a Missionary Baptist pastor who wants to demonstrate within 100 feet of an Oakland abortion clinic to protest black abortions, you get sent to jail for 30 days. That just happened to the Rev. Walter Hoye.

And if you’re an evangelical Protestant student at San Diego Christian College who becomes Miss California USA and makes a run for Miss USA, your ability to win disappears if you remain true to your beliefs. Is this the direction the Golden State wants to go?

• Julia Duin’s column Stairway to Heaven runs Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at [email protected]

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