Attention all families and friends preparing to send "care packages" to U.S. soldiers: Not all gifts are created equal on the Arabian Peninsula.
Powered-drink mixes, beef jerky, pretzels and chewing gum are fine, say the veterans at www.West-Point.org. Chocolate will melt. Fly swatters, footballs, lip balm, sun-block lotion, foot powder and other logical items will be appreciated.
Do not send pork or tobacco. Do not send religious materials. And do not send pornography. In other words, send nothing that will bring grief -- or danger -- to soldiers in the lands surrounding Mecca.
Thus, scores of religious leaders got upset when they heard about a DirectLink Media Group offer to send pornographic videotapes and DVDs to U.S. soldiers and veterans anywhere, with the soldiers paying shipping and handling charges.
The pornographer's press release was blunt. The company merely wants to help defend democracy, free speech and the American way.
"These young men and women are out there fighting for our freedom," said Aaron Gordon, president of FreePornForOurTroops.com. "They deserve any support we can give. ... If you have ever honored our country, in the past or in the present, by risking your life to defend our freedom and our way of life, we want to say thank you with free adult products."
Cultural conservatives were outraged. A Focus on the Family report, for example, noted that a wave of free pornography would be especially demeaning to women who serve alongside men in today's armed services.
"This is an abominable marketing trick by pornographers who care nothing about our troops," added Jan LaRue of Concerned Women of America. Plus, these "Muslim countries generally don't allow anything like this."
On one level, this is merely another firefight in the culture wars that have followed the sexual revolution.
It's a familiar story. Someone on the cultural left does something outrageous. The usual suspects on the cultural right respond with sermons. A late-night comic or two turns this into punch lines about whacko preachers. Journalists yawn.
But this time, at least one pastor did something unusual. The Rev. Martin Drummond of Miami Shores (Fla.) Christian Church took the time to write the pornographer a sincere, low-key appeal to stop his marketing blitz. There was more to this issue than another moralistic minister pitching a fit, he said.
After all, Osama bin Laden and his disciples have issued stacks of fatwas blaming the United States for spreading filth and immorality worldwide. This could be a matter of life and death for troops near the Persian Gulf.
"Do you realize," wrote Drummond, "that one of the reasons the radical Islamic movement so dislikes America is because of its tolerance of pornography? What kind of support will our troops find in Middle Eastern countries if the soldiers are seen as porn-starved trigger jockeys? Your effort will give new life to the allegation that we are not a nation of character, but instead of carnal compromise."
Gordon has not responded to interview requests about his Free Porn For Our Troops campaign. But he did reply to Drummond's email.
"With all due respect," he said, "if I were to change anything I did because the 'radical Islamic movement' does not approve of it, then I would have to forgo most of my beliefs in a free society, my way of life in a free society, and together, we would be forgoing the freedom of people who live in this society."
This argument does carry some weight with Drummond, who is both a pastor and a working journalist with two decades of experience reporting for secular newspapers. Anyone who has taken a class in media law and ethics knows that - here in the safety of America - Gordon has a right to outrage the faithful to his heart's content.
"But this has to be a classic case of someone crying 'Fire!' in a crowded theater," said Drummond. "Sometimes, enough is enough. This kind of stunt is not going to help our troops. This is just going to pour gasoline on the flames of hatred that they already face over there. ...
"Sure, we have freedom of speech. But sometimes we have to restrain ourselves, if, by exercising our freedoms, we can get other people hurt."