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CULTURE DIGEST: Was Matthew Shepard’s murder a hate crime?; Declaration of Ind. censored; Viacom settles with FCC

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A recent in-depth report by ABC News has cast doubt on whether the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a homosexual college student in Wyoming, was really a hate crime. Testimony from those close to the case and from one of the convicted killers indicates drug use was the motive behind the crime.

Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, both 21 at the time of the murder, were convicted of killing Shepard and are now serving double life sentences in prison. Gay rights activists ran with the case and quickly made Shepard the poster child for their cause, claiming the incident encapsulated their fears of being victimized over their sexuality. But ABC News presented a different perspective Nov. 26.

20/20’s Elizabeth Vargas explained that McKinney had a serious methamphetamine habit spurred by a troubled past and his money supply had run out shortly before the Shepard incident occurred. McKinney told Vargas he planned to rob a drug dealer of $10,000 worth of meth the night of Oct. 6, 1998. But when the plan went wrong, he set his sights on Shepard, who was at a local bar that night looking well-dressed and potentially carrying a large amount of cash.

Shepard had been drinking and ended up in a truck with McKinney and Russell. McKinney, affected by his meth addiction, snapped and then brutally beat Shepard before tying him to a fence post and leaving him to die, ABC News said.

“Sometimes when you have that kind of rage going through you, there’s no stopping it,” McKinney told Vargas. “I’ve attacked my best friends coming off of meth binges.”

Hours after the crime was discovered, Shepard’s friends began proclaiming that he was gay and must have been murdered by homophobes. Even McKinney’s girlfriend, Kristen Price, thought McKinney would be better off if people believed his violence was a panic reaction to an unwanted homosexual advance, so she made up a story and was later charged with interfering with police.

“I don’t think it was a hate crime at all. I never did,” Price told Vargas, adding that McKinney’s motive was money and drugs.

Ben Fritzen, the former police detective in Laramie, Wyo., who worked the case, also told Vargas he believed robbery was the primary motive for the killing.

“If it wasn’t Shepard, they would have found another easy target,” he said. “What it came down to really is drugs and money and two punks that were out looking for it.”

When Vargas asked McKinney whether he targeted Shepard because he was a homosexual, McKinney said, “No. I did not…. I would say it wasn’t a hate crime. All I wanted to do was beat him up and rob him.”

VIACOM AGREES TO PAY FCC FINES — Viacom, which owns CBS and MTV, has agreed to pay a record fine of $3.5 million to settle numerous federal investigations into alleged indecency on TV and the radio dating back to 2001, according to the Associated Press.

The company also agreed to implement a company-wide compliance plan to prevent future violations and agreed to install audio delay equipment at radio stations that broadcast live programming.

“This consent decree allows us to move forward and to focus our efforts in this area by serving our viewers and listeners with techniques to safeguard live broadcasts, such as cutaways and video and audio delays,” Viacom said in a statement, according to the AP.

Not included in the $3.5 million is the $550,000 fine imposed by the Federal Communications Commission for the Super Bowl incident involving Janet Jackson, which Viacom is contesting.

The $3.5 million fine stems from antics by shock jock Howard Stern and radio personalities Opie and Anthony, who lost their Viacom-owned New York show after featuring a couple supposedly having sex at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE CENSORED — A California school district prohibited a teacher from providing handouts about American history to his students because the historical documents contain references to God and religion, and now the Alliance Defense Fund has filed suit.

“Throwing aside all common sense, the district has chosen to censor men such as George Washington and documents like the Declaration of Independence,” Gary McCaleb, ADF’s senior counsel, said in a news release. “The district’s actions conflict with American beliefs and are completely unconstitutional. In addition, they have wrongfully applied their policy to only one teacher, who is a professed Christian.”

The school principal ordered the teacher, Stephen Williams, to submit all lesson plans and supplemental handouts for her review but did not require the same of other teachers. Documents that were rejected include excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, the diaries of George Washington and John Adams, the writings of William Penn and various state constitutions, ADF said.

“Less than 5 percent of all of Mr. Williams’ supplemental handouts distributed throughout the school year contain references to God and Christianity,” McCaleb said. “The district is simply attempting to cleanse all references to the Christian religion from our nation’s history.”

In related news, ADF filed an appeal Nov. 22 in response to a judge’s decision not to immediately stop a school district near San Diego from enforcing a dress policy against a student while a lawsuit over its constitutionality is in progress.

In June, ADF filed a suit on behalf of Chase Harper, a high school student who was suspended for refusing to change out of a homemade T-shirt that on the front read, “Be Ashamed” and “Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned,” and on the back read, “Homosexuality is Shameful” and “Romans 1:27.”

The school’s vice principal told Harper: “When I come to school, I leave my faith in the car, and you should leave your faith in the car when it might offend others.”

Harper wore the shirt in protest of the Day of Silence, a homosexual-themed event that the ADF claims was school-sponsored.

“The tolerance being pushed is not a tolerance for viewpoints opposed to homosexuality,” ADF attorney Robert Tyler said. “… If you don’t agree with homosexuality, then your viewpoint is not accepted.”

ADF is the nation’s largest legal alliance defending religious liberty.

ROONEY BLASTS CHRISTIANS — Andy Rooney did not mince words regarding Christians and the election when he spoke to a group of students at Tufts University in Massachusetts Nov. 18.

“I’m an atheist,” the CBS “60 Minutes” commentator said. “I don’t understand religion at all. I’m sure I’ll offend a lot of people by saying this, but I think it’s all nonsense.”

Rooney said Christian “fundamentalism” is a result of “a lack of education. They haven’t been exposed to what the world has to offer,” according to The Tufts Daily.

After voicing dismay at how the working class voted to re-elect George W. Bush, Rooney said he hoped Bush would now have the “confidence” to pull American troops out of Iraq.

“I think if George Bush said tomorrow, ‘I was wrong, I ask for an apology,’ I bet the American people would thank him, and they would like him,” Rooney said, according to The Tufts Daily.

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  • Erin Curry