Now that the networks have fired their censors, it is up to the public to fight bad taste and impropriety on TV.

Our family does not watch network television much, but the other evening we stumbled upon a tidbit from one of the Big Three. There, smaller than life, stood an actress dressed, so to speak, in a garter belt and little more, who displayed ventral and dorsal views of her anatomy before succumbing to the charms of a bearded male. Since it was a tad past 8:00, one can only assume this was intended for family viewing.

And since it is reasonable for parents to expect better television, we support those who urge citizens to express displeasure to sponsors who pay for the visual bologna sandwiched between the advertisements.

Here’s a quick rundown of heroes and villains:

In the black hats are the network executives who have steadily trimmed their departments of “standards and practices” (popularly called “censors”). According to a report in Channels, last season NBC was down to four functioning editors (two on each coast) to review all the scripts and the finished products for more than 2,000 hours of programming. These “cost-cutting” measures have given program-department executives—the people who must deliver better ratings—the job of determining what’s tasteful. To compete with cable television and video rentals, these executives have begun delivering the bad taste and impropriety heretofore available only on videotape and cable.

But in an economy in which “market share” is the name of the game, conservative viewers do have a voice. As one departing NBC standards and practices executive said, “What it all means depends on whether the public really cares. I guess we’ll find out.”

Enter the white hats. Last year, Terry Rakolta, Michigan housewife extraordinaire, complained to sponsors about the content of Fox Broadcasting’s “Married … With Children.” In response, she got an actual cancellation of commercials from Tambrands, makers of Tampax, and a meek reply and a free case of Coca-Cola Classic from Coca-Cola. Rakolta is a wealthy socialite who sits on half a dozen boards of trustees for cultural and charitable institutions. She knew she had clout, and she didn’t hesitate to use it.

However, the rest of us, who are not so well connected, can also ride with the good guys. The posse is being formed by a coalition of approximately 1,600 Christian leaders known as CLEAR-TV (for Christian Leaders for Responsible Television). The organization notified sponsors that they would be monitoring network TV during a specified period and that a boycott could result. Over a three-year period, they corresponded with Clorox and Mennen, sponsors of the most offensive programming. Despite warnings, both companies continued to sponsor objectionable material.

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CLEAR-TV’s chairman, Billy Melvin, executive director of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), clearly means business. The boycott against Clorox and Mennen “must succeed,” says NAE’s Washington Insight newsletter. “If not, Americans can expect worse and worse fare from emboldened advertisers who care only about the bottom line.” The NAE has produced a three-by-five card blacklisting products such as Liquid-Plumr and Speed-Stick deodorant, making it easier for concerned viewers to buy alternative items until the boycott ends in July 1990.

And, oh yes, there are more white hats: they belong to Hyundai Motors of America and Visa USA, the sponsors whose programs showed the lowest levels of sex, violence, and profanity during the monitoring period.

By David Neff.

Say witch and most people think of bubbling cauldrons and evil potions. But a recent decision from a Rhode Island governmental agency may begin to change that. Tax administrator R. Gary Clark has ruled that a coven of witches deserves tax-exempt status as a legitimate religious group.

“With this ruling,” said the coven’s high priestess, “we witches will definitely be able to come out of the closet and take our place in society.” The coven has 30 to 40 members in Rhode Island and meets about three times a month. Members pay homage to a deity with male and female attributes, whose “psychic energy” they believe can be tapped. While the power can be used for good or ill, the witches claim they do not use it for destructive purposes. The coven is allowed by the state to officiate over marriages and burials.

In allowing the coven the sales-tax exemption, Clark said the group proved on appeal that it met the guidelines for legitimate church groups as set out by a 1986 Rhode Island Supreme Court ruling. The connotation of the word witch may have made it more difficult for the state to reach its decision, he admitted.

We are glad it did. Witches have been at pains in recent years to overhaul their image as Satan-worshiping hags. Some “Wiccan” groups portray their practices and beliefs as part of New Age “consciousness,” where “white” magic is linked with goddess worship, environmental concern, and feminist issues. And if these New Age witches avoid illegal activities and hold sincere beliefs, tax officials find it increasingly difficult to deny legal recognition.

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But Christians should still feel uneasy. We may not try to translate every biblical prohibition (such as the searing condemnations of witchcraft and sorcery) into civil law. And our government and legal system, by design, is not structured to determine what constitutes orthodoxy. But we do have an obligation to keep our culture from forgetting that some things—like witchcraft—are evil and just plain bad for people. The complexities of bearing witness in a pluralistic, often confused, culture will never exempt us from that.

By Timothy K. Jones.

Solomon would have been challenged. Seven racist and violent men needed to be sentenced in a civil suit stemming from a KKK attack on a civil-rights march in 1979 in Decatur, Georgia. During the mêlée, two marchers and two Klansmen were shot and five police officers were injured.

How do you design a sentence that will not only fulfill the requirements of justice but also attempt to change an evil and pernicious ideology?

Well, the U.S. District Court in Huntsville, Alabama, made a Solomonic attempt. In addition to fines, a pledge to refrain temporarily from participating in white-supremacy groups, and a promise not to harass blacks, the court decided the Klansmen also needed some schooling. They are to attend a class taught by black civil-rights activists that will meet for two one-hour sessions. Joseph Lowery, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference president and organizer of the 1979 march, will be one of the instructors. He said that the purpose is “not to denigrate or humiliate but to redeem” the men. “This is the first time that a settlement in a civil rights suit has directed those guilty of racial violence to sit down with their victims and be taught lessons of brotherhood,” he said.

Two hours seem a hopelessly short time to change deep-seated attitudes—especially with hostile pupils. One of the sentenced men has called the plan both “cruel and unusual punishment” and an opportunity to study “the enemy” up close. Syndicated columnist Les Payne calls the whole idea naïve.

Naïve or not, the sentence recognizes that long-term solutions to racism will only become possible as hearts are changed. Let’s experiment with reeducating adults; let’s institute antiracism programs for young people. The future for their attitudes is now.

By Michael G. Maudlin.

Last year, the United States government spent one trillion dollars. That’s 12 zeroes to the right of the 1. We pick up the tab for most of that through taxes. But actually we give away a whole lot beyond what we channel through the IRS: $104.3 billion was donated by the private sector in 1988, according to the American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel. And of that amount, $48.2 billion comes through religious organizations, nearly all of it from individual pockets.

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Skeptics might point to cathedrals, fancy cars, and high ministry salaries, but nearly half the money ($22 billion) given to churches goes to social programs: soup kitchens, hospitals, facilities for the aged.

The obvious implication from these figures is that Americans are generous. Private citizens gave more ($82.6 billion) to worthy causes than the entire federal budget, excluding defense goods and services. Americans are apparently doing what two Republican administrations have urged throughout the eighties. That puts the ball back into the federal court. The private sector is doing its fair share and we still have serious social needs. Maybe it is time this administration takes a hard look at the policies—as well as the waste and duplication—that help sustain poverty, the infamous drug war, lousy schools, a massive health-care crisis, and other problems.

Religious organizations and their critics should take note of the dollars that go beyond the church and synagogue walls. To the faithful goes a well-deserved bouquet. Giving is basic to both Jewish and Christian teaching, and it is comforting to see it practiced.

But to those who repeatedly bash the church for poking its nose into society’s business, we say, “Read our ledger sheets!” Society’s business is our business, and we have every right to supplement our giving with other efforts to make this a better place to live.

By Lyn Cryderman.

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