Fort Pierce seemed an unlikely spot for a fight against pornography. The city of 47,000 on Florida’s east coast already had two topless bars, a struggling massage parlor, and several bookstores with adult literature in the back room.

But maybe the addition of an X-rated theater became too much. When the local newspapers announced last April that someone planned to convert a rug outlet into an adult movie theater, a citizen’s group—composed mainly of members of the city’s 70-plus churches—had formed in opposition within a week.

An angry group of about 500 met at Southside Baptist Church, located within sight of the proposed theater. For more than two hours they voiced strong feelings against the theater, and discussed how to block its opening. They feared higher crime would follow, plus further decay of the town’s moral standards, and objected to becoming the only town in a four-county area with an adult theater. (None of the bordering counties, in fact, permitted topless bars or massage parlors.) Also, the attenders said they didn’t want their children growing up where that sort of enterprise flourished. The group ignored denominational lines: Baptists joined with Lutherans, Methodists with Catholics. Presbyterians with Episcopalians.

Despite the growing furor, theater operator Richard Sparks insisted he would continue with plans for his Barn Cinema. The local press latched on to the pornography issue, and news articles appeared almost daily. By the time the group decided to meet again, the theater’s fate was a hot discussion topic city wide.

More than 800 attended the second meeting, when the group adopted the name Saint Lucie [County] Citizens Against Pornography (CAP). Southside Baptist pastor Tony Carson, known for his opposition ...

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