The news from American Fork, Utah, was an affront to degradation: Folks were paying $5 to have Sunrise Family Video excise the nudity and sexually explicit scenes from their copies of "Titanic." Paramount Pictures was appalled at this assault on artistic freedom. Curb indecency, and anarchy cannot be far behind. Eloquent phrases such as "Dang Utah Mormons censoring films!" emerged in the national conversation.

While I have not been secretive about my disdain for "Titanic" (should all dialogue be removed it would be one small step toward improvement of the picture and one giant leap for IQs everywhere), I would defend to the death the right of good citizens everywhere to opt out of nudity in films. The censorship hue and cry in this circumstance, as always, is terribly selective. Censorship abounds, but censorship cries arise only when religious values rear their virtuous but offensive heads.The public schools are part of the ranks of the transparent censors. Schools ban books when they do not reflect current beliefs, but they exempt current practices from such judgment. "Huckleberry Finn" has been removed from English studies in many schools because of its "racist" content. It is difficult to imagine why young students must be shielded from historical perspective as well as the insights of Mark Twain on the human condition when issues of Cosmopolitan with articles on achieving orgasm are available in their English classrooms as "research" resources for their collages or whatever other inane "learning activity" they are engaged in apart from actual learning.

The latest public-school trend is districtwide policies on "hate speech," the censoring of speech on campus. My daughter was required to sign a "Rules" for her English class. Rule 1 is as follows: "There is to be no name calling or inappropriate references to students' ethnic origins, gender or sexual preference. Any of this is considered harrassment

sicT and will be dealt with by the administration and district." Note the selectivity of the politically correct educational bureaucrats: ethnicity, gender and sexual preference are protected categories of speech, but religious persecution is acceptable. Hence, a student uttering the following: "You're nothing but a film-editing Mormon," would not incur the wrath of the school district.

Censorship of speech, art and other forms of expression has become tainted with political ideology. Just this year, enlightened oppressors at Northwestern University sentenced a student conservative newspaper, The North-wes-tern Chronicle, to the graveyard of censored speech. This independent newspaper, begun by Northwestern students in 1992, created an uncomfortable feeling at a university accustomed to one voice, one view, no dissent. The process of eliminating The Chronicle began as intolerance usually does, with reliance on strained application of existing regulations so that censorship is achieved in masked format.

Northwestern officials suddenly had a powerful hankering to prevent fire hazards in dorms, and the delivery of conservative newspapers in dorms was found to be a profound fire hazard. Because dorms were laden with pizza deal fliers, this effort proved a tad too transparent, and a new regulation on litter was promulgated so distribution of the newspaper could be fully contained. But speech, and more particularly truth, finds a way and the little conservative newspaper that could still thrived. Finally, utilizing a point evaluation system as grounded in science as Miss Congeniality awards, the Northwestern student government reviewed all student organizations and "derecognized" The Chronicle. Left without campus access, the paper folded.

Worse than the pettiness and utter disregard for liberty of the pompous student leaders is the silence of the Northwestern faculty in their failure to decry the sham and shame of such censorship.

Censorship is alive and well, consistent only in its protection of the amoral and prohibition on religious-based speech. Larry Flynt was glorified by Hollywood for his pornography. Reggie White lost a broadcasting job for voicing his religious views on homosexuality. Sidney Blumenthal, a top White House aide, can ridicule a government employee for being a "religious zealot" and still remain a White House official. Bruce Babbitt cites Genesis and Noah as the basis for the Endangered Species Act, but only evolution can be taught in schools. Doctors in clinics can advise patients of the right to an abortion but cannot mention issues of conscience or religion.

The cries of censorship over the editing of scenes from a movie are amusing when there are 176 college campuses around the country with speech codes (the bastions of free thought don't want free speech), school districts nationwide with hate speech curbs, and hate crime legislation that ups the penalty if you utter epithets as you commit a crime. Can't have insensitive, depraved murderers!

Censorship was once focused on pornography: Was it risky to censor such expression in the interest of community standards? The obscene won. Encroachments to speech grounded in religious or conservative values march onward unrestrained. Cut a few minutes from a silly film, and the First Amendment is in jeopardy. But try to speak freely in an educational environment, and civilization is at risk. The irony is delicious.