Beliefnet
SALT LAKE CITY, March 12 (AP) -- Are naked mannequins pornographic?

That was one of the calls Paula Houston, Utah's new porn czar, has responded to during her first few weeks on the job.

The answer is no -- mannequins are not sexually explicit, and thus not pornographic. But most questions Houston faces are not that clear-cut. And that has her critics worried.

They wonder how a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can fairly address pornography, which the denomination views as an addiction akin to drugs.

"I think our background always is an important part of who we are and how we view the world," says Carol Gnade, director of the Utah American Civil Liberties Union.

Houston, who is believed to be the nation's first state official whose role is solely to fight pornography, insists her faith will not affect how she does her job. Besides, she says, it is for juries to decide what is pornographic.

The Republican-dominated Legislature created the post last year -- the official title is Obscenity and Pornography Complaints Ombudsman -- to give legal guidance to local governments and community members worried about smut.

Before accepting the job in January, Houston, 41, spent 15 years as a prosecutor in West Valley City, a Salt Lake suburb.

Pornography is "a problem across the country, not just in Utah. It's out there everywhere, well, not everywhere, but our kids are exposed to it," she says. "It's definitely more accessible because of the Internet."

She offers no answers for Internet pornography but considers her job an important step toward solving the problem, since "somebody needs to be looking for solutions."

It is not as if Utah is being bombarded by porn. Defining what porn is usually comes down to what the courts refer to as community standards. In Utah, those standards reflect the dominant Mormon Church.

As a result, strip clubs and magazine and video stores face a hostile political environment. One video store in Evanston, Wyo., just across the state line, advertises itself as "Utah's Best Adult Superstore."

Andrew McCullough, a Utah lawyer who works with the ACLU and represents several adult-oriented businesses, says Houston ought to "quit and go home."

"One of the things that seems clear is she's to be a resource for local governments to run bad influences out of town," he says, "and we're bad influences."

Houston says that while the porn cases she pursued in West Valley City clearly involved hard-core material, she will advise Utah towns to prosecute subtler cases if they violate those communities' standards.

Since taking the job, reporters have asked Houston about her own sex life, and the state's largest newspaper, The Salt Lake Tribune, reported that she was a virgin. Houston, who has never married, denies answering the question and says her sexual experience is irrelevant.

Being the subject of national attention and constant jokes -- Jay Leno mentioned her in a monologue -- is a drastic change for Houston. She kept a low profile as a West Valley City prosecutor. Local First Amendment lawyers say she was relatively unknown before her appointment.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says he picked Houston because they both believe pornography is destructive to society and degrades women, and because they share strong views that the job must be done without violating the First Amendment.

She will meet with community leaders who have questions about what they can or cannot do about strip clubs, adult magazine shops and Internet porn. Soon she will have her own 800 number and an Internet site to respond to citizens worried about Utah's moral fiber.

Those who know Houston describe her as tough, levelheaded, dependable, fair and goodhearted.

Houston graduated from law school 15 years ago and went straight into a job as assistant to West Valley City Attorney Paul Morris. He assigned her to handle the pornography cases in what is now Utah's second-largest city.

She prosecuted five pornography cases, getting convictions on each, Morris says. He points out that Houston also decided not to prosecute several other cases.

"She's very grounded. She can distinguish very well between her personal beliefs and the law," he says. "I think some of the things I've read make it sound like she's going to run after cable TV or Playboy, and that's not how she is. She's dealing with the hard-core, nasty stuff."

Houston not only practices her faith, she is also a product of a Mormon education. She attended church-owned Ricks College in Idaho for her associate's degree and then Brigham Young University for her bachelor's degree and law school. She went on a church proselytizing mission to New Zealand 20 years ago.

She talked over the porn czar job with her mother, who advised her to turn to her Mormon faith.

"I told her to pray about it and do what's right," says Carol Houston.

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