The FCC Targets Religious Programming

  We were given ample evidence last week that the era of big government is alive and well in the new millennium. In a recent announcement, the Federal Communications Commission issued a new policy restricting religious programming on non-commercial TV. This decision has frightening implications for free speech in general, and religious expression in particular. Not only is it biased against Christians, it's a clear violation of the First Amendment. In a 3 to 2 vote, the FCC panel ruled that "programming primarily devoted to religious exhortation, proselytizing, or statements of personally-held religious view and beliefs... would not qualify as 'general educational' programming." The chilling part of this is that stations airing such material could lose their broadcast licenses. In a January 19th editorial, The Wall Street Journal offered a brilliant assessment of the ruling, pointing out that the FCC has put itself in a position to impose "a new litmus test for speech that targets religious expression." For three of the five FCC members, this was apparently the opportunity they had been looking for to put up roadblocks for non-commercial television stations that air Christian programs. The long-term implications of the ruling are grave, not only for Christians but for anyone who values free speech. The ruling puts the FCC in the position of determining which religious expression is acceptable and which is not. How is this possible? What standard would a federal agency use to make such decisions? Brandt Gustavson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, argues that making the distinctions the new standards require will be a "difficult if not impossible exercise." The two dissenting commissioners in this case got it right. They said: "The more the Commission attempts to define 'which... programming will count for regulatory purposes, the closer it will come to unacceptable content regulation.'" Think about it. Does this mean, for example, that the Pope's Christmas mass would be prohibited? And how about discussion of abortion or homosexuality? Where does the censorship end? Have no fear, this will not mean that PBS would have to reconsider airing Bill Moyers' attack on evangelicals in politics, programs celebrating alternative lifestyles, or New Age spirituality. That's "education." But an interview with me presenting a biblical worldview would be forbidden. In abandoning its role of protecting religious neutrality, the agency now threatens to become a dangerous secularizing force in society. And this is not just a religious issue. When unelected bureaucrats arrogate to themselves the power to determine what is and is not acceptable speech, our entire heritage of freedom of expression is at risk. The Thought Police are in control. We need to make sure our neighbors understand how important this is. What the FCC is talking about banning is not some sort of marginal speech, it is, in fact, the Judeo-Christian heritage that undergirds our entire society. At this moment, Rep. Mike Oxley, of Ohio, is seeking to overturn this decision in Congress. What a travesty. The FCC cannot bring itself to restrain Jerry Springer, professional wrestling, or shock TV, but now it is targeting the free proclamation of the Word of God. This must not happen.


Chuck Colson


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