Protest leader walks fine line

She tries to protect Y. and church from ridicule

Published: Tuesday, April 24 2007 12:12 a.m. MDT

Diane Bailey, president of BYU's College Democrats, seeks to show that Democrats can still be good church members.

Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News

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PROVO — Last semester, weekly meetings of the College Democrats club at Brigham Young University drew three or four people.

The club shot out of obscurity this month when new club president Diane Bailey organized an on-campus political protest to criticize the record of Vice President Dick Cheney, who will be BYU's commencement speaker on Thursday. Bailey will oversee a second campus demonstration hours before Cheney speaks.

The remarkable sight of a sit-in on the private, religious and — most important to national and international media — largely conservative campus thrust Bailey into a spotlight that spawned an invitation from "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

An appearance on the Comedy Central cable TV hit would be a huge honor for most American college students, but it's one Bailey ultimately turned down.

That decision illustrated the fine line Bailey has walked since BYU announced that the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had invited Cheney to speak at the church's flagship school, where Bailey teaches a Sunday School class in her student congregation.

The 20-year-old student from Alamo, Calif., has balanced a delicate set of values as a Democrat protesting Cheney's actions while ardently trying to protect her school and church from ridicule or negative press.

She's been a little like a circus elephant teetering on a little stool.

Better make that a donkey.

Bailey will leave it all behind Friday when she flies to Washington, D.C., for a full-time, joint internship with the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's events office.

"It's been so insane going from a club people didn't even know existed to getting calls from the New York Times," Bailey said. "'The Daily Show' is the Holy Grail for college news — or fake college news — but 'The Daily Show' makes fun of people. That's why people watch.

"It wouldn't be a big deal if they were to make fun of our club, because it is funny, but it's something else if it's BYU or the church."

Meanwhile, some members of her faith who jumped to the wrong conclusions about the campus protest have called for the LDS Church to revoke her temple recommend — the tiny, thin piece of paper that grants access to the church's 124 temples around the world. They've also criticized the BYU administrators who approved the sit-in, wondering aloud when they will put down the "student insurrection" and regain control of campus.

In classes, fellow students told Bailey she embarrassed BYU and the church. Many believed she was criticizing the LDS Church's First Presidency, the three men who invited Cheney.

But Bailey and the club's literature is clear: Club members will welcome Cheney to campus, where Bailey is anxious to see more political speakers and political dialogue. But while protecting the church and supporting the BYU administration, College Democrats oppose Cheney's policies and don't think he is a role model for graduates.

"They have tried to mark out that distinction between protesting the administration and protesting the individual the administration has invited to come," said the club's adviser, BYU political science professor Richard Davis. "That's a fine line that I'm sure has gotten lost in the minds of many people."

Other students have reacted in a kinder, gentler way.

"The positive reactions are those who say, 'I never knew this could happen at BYU,"' Bailey said.

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