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This is not a rights problem: It's all just about doing right


YOU'VE GOT to admire the moxie of John Lofton. The guy doesn't even shy away from the word theocracy.

I remember Lofton mainly from his 15-year stint on WJZ-TV's Square Off, which was arguably the best, and definitely the most contentious, public affairs program to appear on local airwaves. Lofton was usually there giving - quite cogently and eloquently, I might add - the conservative take on topics of the day.

These days, Lofton - who calls himself "a recovering Republican" - is the co-host with 2004 Constitution Party presidential candidate Michael Peroutka of the radio show American View. Lofton said he will soon be editor of the Internet Web site TheAmericanView.net.

Lofton is still conservative and a devout Christian. He apologizes for neither. When I suggested that folks might accuse him of advocating theocracy because of some of his views, he agreed.

"Theocracy simply means 'godly rule,'" Lofton said. "I believe and our founders believed that our rights come from God. I want godly rule."

But not, Lofton emphasized, one church ruling America.

My question was inspired by Lofton calling me to express his disgust about a seminar he attended in Howard County. The theme was how to get teenage girls to stop having sex with men five, 10, maybe 15 years older than they are. The seminar was designed for those who counsel teen-age girls. The teaching manual - called "Unequal Partners: Teaching About Power and Consent in Adult-Teen and Other Relationships" - was developed by Planned Parenthood of Greater Northern New Jersey.

Planned Parenthood - in greater northern New Jersey or anywhere else - isn't exactly the favorite group of conservatives. But Lofton decided to attend the seminar anyway. He wanted to inject what he felt was the much-needed moral question into the discussion. He desperately wanted someone, anyone, at the seminar to say that men having sex with girls was - gasp! - a SIN.

Lofton wanted somebody to say, "It's just wrong." As wrong as a southbound turn onto a northbound expressway.

During rush hour.

He didn't get it. Lofton said he got some waffling and an acknowledgment that such liaisons were illegal, but the moral issue was never addressed. (Deborah Chilcoat, an education and training specialist with Planned Parenthood who attended the seminar, said her organization makes no moral judgments about the issue but gives information "so individuals can use [it] and figure out how to put it in their moral construct." But Chilcoat added that the consequences of man-girl sexual liaisons are "almost all negative.")

Negative consequences aside, America has wallowed in the culture of whoopee for the last 30-odd years. That won't change even if every member of Planned Parenthood converts to the religious right. What did Lofton expect?

Lofton has his own list of usual suspects on why American society has now devolved to the point where grown men show no shame in seeing girls in the 13- to 16-year-old age range. My own list is a short one. It starts with the seven justices who were the majority in the Roe v. Wade case. The decision to strike down every anti-abortion law in the country was perhaps, for way too many people, a we-can-have-sex-for-free-with-no-consequences card. Either that or the justices hoped the Roe decision would finish the job 1927's Buck v. Bell decision - which permitted states to forcibly sterilize some citizens - started.

So, knowing I was dangerously flirting with all the flaws that come with post hoc, ergo propter hoc thinking, I asked Lofton if he thought the Roe decision was a factor in men seeking out teen girls for sex, and vice versa.

"It's all of a piece," Lofton answered. "The easy sex, the cheapening of human life. We have seen a total cultural shift and it's because our country has been de-Christianized. Religion determines a culture. When you have a religious collapse, you have a cultural collapse."

Some will dismiss Lofton as one of the religious right's growing legion of loose cannons. Indeed, his pronouncement that the Constitution "was designed to regulate only a Christian people" will come as quite a shock to descendants of those Jews who lived in the United States when the document was ratified.

Still, we might want to heed the following warning from Lofton, no matter what we think of his politics:

"You don't have to be a Christian," Lofton said, 'to see that our country is in serious moral collapse."

Indeed you don't. As recently as 30 years ago, few, if any, people in the country would have heard the anecdote a local college student told me.

The student is South Asian and Muslim. This past year, she tutored some girls at a local middle school. The college student, pushing 22, was shocked when the girls asked if she was a virgin. When she said she was, they all proudly announced that they weren't.

The college student then asked the girls what would happen if they got pregnant. One said she would just have an abortion and knew of several girls her age who had had several abortions.

Is the "de-Christianization" of America responsible for this? Not really. This is one of several points on which Lofton and I will have to agree to disagree.

But a mania for rights and a phobia about responsibilities is certainly part of the problem. On that, I think we would both agree.

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