PROVO Three e-mail addresses belonging to Brigham Young University were caught last month in the cross fire of a battle over pornography between a family organization and the Marriott hotel chain.
The American Family Association and two subsidiary groups, One Million Moms and One Million Dads, spurred members to send thousands of e-mail messages to the addresses of executives at the Marriott Corp. asking the company to stop offering adult movies in its hotel rooms.
Thousands of messages mistakenly inundated three BYU e-mail addresses with the word "Marriott" in them. Each of the e-mail accounts is connected to the BYU business school, the Marriott School of Management.
One of the addresses belonged to the school's dean, Ned Hill, who estimated he went through 8,000 messages, deleting them hundreds at a time. His computer was basically useless for a day as all of its resources went to downloading e-mails until BYU found a way to block the messages.
The AFA urged members to fill out form e-mails on its Web sites and send them to the Marriott Corp. in September 2002. More than 300,000 messages were sent during that campaign, according to one of AFA's Web sites. A new campaign began last month, days after an article was posted on OneMillionMoms.com claiming that a New York mother and her two children, ages 8 and 5, were watching a family movie at a Marriott hotel when it switched "to a full-blown sex movie."
"The real problem lies in Marriott's corporate policy," wrote Donald E. Wilmon, chairman of AFA and the moms and dads groups and an ordained United Methodist minister. "The Marriott Hotel chain claims to be 'committed to traditional family values,' yet most of the corporately owned and franchised Marriotts sell 'hard-core pornography' on televisions in rooms. I need your help in contacting Marriott again. We must continue to let Marriott chairman J.W. Marriott Jr. and his executive team know porn is not a corporate value."
LDS Church President Ezra Taft Benson asked the Marriott family in the 1980s for permission to name the business school for J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott, devout LDS Church members and founders of a billion-dollar lodging and restaurant empire. The Marriott family agreed to give $12 million to the school, said Joseph Ogden, assistant dean of the Marriott School.
J.W. Marriott Jr. is one of the couple's two sons.
Not all of the Marriott hotels offer adult videos. That includes the Provo Marriott, said John Garfield, the hotel's general manager. Those hotels that carry adult movies take precautions to keep children from seeing them.
"With all adult movies at all hotels, you have to go through a number of screens to get to them," Garfield said. "Parents have the power to restrict access to those movies. It's easier to get pornography by e-mail and on the Internet than at a hotel."
Most of the e-mails sent to BYU were generic forms from AFA's Web sites, Odgen said. The e-mails went to Hill, an editor of the Marriott School's alumni magazine and a woman in the external relations office.
"We got very handy with the delete button," Ogden said.
Ami Adkins, a member of One Million Moms, sent a specific letter to the Marriott School questioning BYU's use of the Marriott name.
"How does BYU reconcile the ethics of exposing children to pornography?" Adkins asked. "And how do you feel about being associated by name with a company that is engaged in and benefits financially from porn distribution? If Larry Flynt donated lots of money would you name a school after him?"Comment on this story
Ogden said BYU continues to receive money on occasion from the private Marriott Family Foundation, but has no connection to the hotel chain, a publicly held company with millions of stockholders and a board of directors.
"It was a little spooky because you don't know if the messages are originating from a worm or a hacker because it's coming in so fast," Ogden said. "We don't have any issue with the corporation or the association, we just were in the unfortunate position of being caught in the middle."