"There is something about the crown that makes people listen to what you have to say."
#8212;Tara Dawn Holland Christensen, 1997

Miss America officials, who five years ago lauded Miss America Kate Shindle for promoting condom distribution in schools and needle exchange programs as her causes, didn't applaud Harold's idea. At an October appearance before the National Press Club, they ordered her not to mention abstinence. Harold objected, saying she wouldn't be true to her beliefs if she neglected to counsel during talks to school groups that waiting for sex until marriage is best. Harold believes her words can save lives by keeping young people from contracting AIDS.

Harold calls the showdown a life-defining moment. "God really laid it upon my heart that he brought me to this point to do something more than to just talk about something everybody agrees with," Harold says. "If I say, 'I don't think we should bully others,' there's not a soul who's going to say, 'I think we should harass people.' But if I say, 'I think people should wait until marriage to have sex,' some people want to challenge that."

The tiff between a biblically conservative beauty queen and the 82-year-old liberal-leaning Atlantic City organization caused a national firestorm. Pro-family organizations and conservative publications rallied to her side, including an editorial in The Wall Street Journal and a front-page article in The Washington Times. Christians cheered her tenacity.

After two days, the Miss America organization relented, agreeing to allow Harold to include abstinence as a part of an expanded violence platform. But the incident put a strain on Harold's relationship with pageant officials.

Turner says in 1990 Miss America officials placed no restrictions on what she brought up in remarks. She talked about prayer and trusting in the Lord in public school appearances and even sang Christian rap songs in classrooms. Complaints to pageant officials and threats of lawsuits didn't stop her. "I wasn't going to be ashamed of my beliefs," she says. "I told them I lived in a country where I could express my views freely."

Christensen, who now speaks and sings around the country through her non-profit ministry Cross & Crown, says she only encountered one instance where pageant officials tried to censor her. It was after she mentioned on a talk show that she would someday like to marry a Christian. After discussions, Christensen says she realized her appearances should not be used for such means.

"I wasn't going to be ashamed of my beliefs. I told them I lived in a country where I could express my views freely."
—Debbye Turner, 1990

Johnson wove her spiritual commitment naturally into talking about diabetes in all 300 speeches she gave during her reign. "When interviewed on the telecast, I was able to talk about how my initial anger at God over having diabetes was a big mistake," she says.

Opening the door for faith

Miss America pageants haven't always been a forum to evangelize. In fact, in 1965 Vonda Van Dyke Scoates became just the first winner to speak about her faith publicly—34 years after the pageant started. She prayed that the Lord would allow her to testify about her beliefs through the interview portion of the show.

"Back then we all had to sign a contract agreeing that we wouldn't talk about religion or politics," Scoates recalls. An information sheet supplied to judges asked applicants if they had brought a good-luck charm with them to the pageant. Scoates answered that she didn't possess a good-luck charm, but she did bring a Bible. Emcee Bert Parks asked her on the air if her Bible served as a good-luck charm.

"I do not consider my Bible a good-luck charm," Scoates replied. "But I always carry a Bible with me. It is the most important book I own. I would not classify my relationship to Jesus Christ as a religion but rather as a faith. I trust him completely." The audience burst into applause.