(Photo: Reuters / Steve Marcus)
A Christian Miss Tennessee told Miss USA judges she strongly disapproves of the burning of sacred texts, including her own, during a challenging final question round that led to the crowning of Miss California, a self-professed "science geek" and believer in evolution.
When asked if the burning of any religious article should be protected by the First Amendment the same way burning the flag is protected, Tennessee's Ashley Elizabeth Durham, a journalism student, answered, "Absolutely not."
Durham disclosed her Christian faith with the audience and said she would be upset if the Bible were burned. She then urged for mutual respect for the Bible and any other religious text, including the Quran.
"You should also respect other religions," she proclaimed. Burning either the Quran or the Bible, she said, is "just a line that you do not cross."
The question was posed by Rocco DiSpirito who, without naming names, cited Florida Pastor Terry Jones’ controversial action of burning a Quran. Jones had announced plans last year to burn copies of the Islamic holy book on the anniversary of 9/11. He canceled the 9/11 event after much outcry from the public, but later continued with the burning on March 20 of this year despite sweeping condemnation over his plan.
A 24-year-old Muslim man later desecrated the Bible at the gates of Saint Anthony's Catholic Church in Lahore, Pakistan, in March to avenge the Florida burning.
After answering the question, Durham was named the first runner-up. Miss California, Alyssa Campanella, was named Miss USA.
Campanella told judges during the pageant that she would legalize marijuana for medical use only.
"It's abused today, unfortunately; that's the only reason why I'd be a little bit against it," she reasoned.
Campanella is not against evolution in schools, however. During the preliminary online questions, she was asked whether evolution should be taught in schools. She responded, "I was taught evolution in high school. I do believe in it. I'm a huge science geek ... I like to believe in the big bang theory and, you know, the evolution of humans throughout time."
The online questions, which touched on evolution and nudity, were fraught with controversy from public figures who feared conservative contestants would be ostracized for their answers.
"They witnessed with Carrie Prejean (the former Miss California) how a firestorm can create a road kill, and nobody wants to be part of a situation like that again," Keith Lewis, state pageant director California, New York and New Hampshire, told Fox News. Prejean sparked debate when she stated her belief in traditional marriage during the 2009 pageant.
While many pageant contestants this year expressed an openness to include evolution in public schools, some also expressed their desire to see the other side – such as creationism – given equal time in the classroom. One contestant completely rejected evolution as a school subject.
"I do think evolution should be taught in schools," said Durham in her video. "Personally, that's not my belief, but I do believe all ideas should be put out there for people to decide for themselves."
Online fan favorite for the quarter-finalist round Brittany Toll of New Mexico also said of evolution, "I think evolution should be taught in schools because evolution is based off of science and I think science is a huge thing that we need to continue to enrich our schools with."
Miss Alabama, Madeline Mitchell, was the third runner-up, and Miss Texas, Ana Christina Rodriguez, placed fourth at the 2011 Miss USA pageant.