ENCORE: Targeting Religious Broadcasters

Democratic plans to revive government censorship of the radio and TV airways will strike hardest at religious broadcasters who stand in the way of a liberal social revolution.

Christian broadcasters tell HUMAN EVENTS they will be targeted once President Obama’s appointees gain control of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this year.

"The Left Wing, I think, will immediately start filing complaints, and it will in short order shut Christian broadcasting down," says Warren Kelley, president of "Point of View," the first Christian talk show to go on the air via satellite 37 years ago. "I think it will so limit what they say that, in essence, they will cease to be Christian broadcasters."

A number of prominent congressional Democrats, among them House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, want the FCC to bring back the so-called Fairness Doctrine. Until its abolishment by President Ronald Reagan, the doctrine gave the five-member FCC the right to demand that broadcasters present contrasting views or risk losing their broadcast license.

What is even more troubling to Christian talk show hosts is a left-wing movement to use regulatory boards like the FCC to cancel broadcast licenses and to stamp out free speech altogether. Such government power is already being exerted in Europe and Canada, where those at the microphone cannot criticize Islam or homosexuality without risking a blackout.

"Our founders believed the most important liberty was religious liberty," says Frank Pastore, whom some have dubbed the "Christian Rush Limbaugh" for his daily radio talk show in Los Angeles. "They enshrined that belief in the First Amendment. And now that religious liberty is threatened. We need to just look at Canada and Europe and see what liberals have in mind. I don’t want to be France. I don’t want to be Canada. I want to continue to be America."

Says Bruce Fein, the FCC general counsel during the Reagan administration, "The whole purpose of the Fairness Doctrine is to force contrasting views even if it violates the broadcaster’s scruples. The overall objective is to try to make it sufficiently expensive, so it isn’t worth it so I’ll say nothing at all. The alternative is not to have more views but to have fewer."

History tells Pastore and his colleagues they have has good reason to be concerned. Religious broadcasters were the most targeted during the Kennedy-Johnson administration. In perhaps the most infamous case — the FCC crackdown on Christian fundamentalist Carl McIntire and his radio station, WXUR — the commission leveled a series of complaints for McIntire not presenting "contrasting views." Finally, it refused to renew his license. McIntire, big on Christian values and anti-communism, was off the air in 1973.

Perhaps coincidentally, Christian broadcasting has grown since the Fairness Doctrine went away, producing some of the great conservative voices. Men like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and James Dobson became a major pillar within the Republican Party. Their flocks help elect a Republican Congress in 1994 and George W. Bush in 2000.

Their association, the National Religious Broadcasters, meets in Nashville’s Opryland this weekend for an annual convention, just as Democrats in Congress mull how to bring back a doctrine that would stifle the family values message.

The convention features a panel of lawyers and broadcasters discussing possible threats from the new Obama administration.

"Will hate crimes and the Fairness Doctrine now threaten the broadcasting landscape?" the convention program states. "Where can you expect attacks on your religious programming content. What is the prospect for religious liberties in America.?"

One panel speaker is the host of "Janet Parshall’s America," a daily popular show on the Salem Radio Network. Some congressional Democrats have talked of specifically targeting Salem and its 95 radio stations by challenging its license renewals. In all, there are over 2,000 Christian radio stations in America and 100 TV stations.

"What we want to do is tell the message of Jesus," Parshalls tells HUMAN EVENTS. "What the Fairness Doctrine would have us do is give equal time to Buddha, Allah and [scientologist] L. Ron Hubbard."

Indeed, the issues the conventioneers tackle especially rankle the Left. Christian broadcasters oppose same-sex marriage, abortion, rampant illegitimacy, teen pregnancy, strict teaching of evolution and the liberal secular movement. They promote marriage, home schooling, prayer in school and homosexual-to-heterosexual conversion.

"These are things that would make religious broadcasters prime targets," Fein said.

When voters in California last November approved Proposition 8, which defines marriage as between a man and woman, religious broadcasters may have made the difference.

"We were a large mouth piece that kept the base informed," Pastore says.

The party holding the White House enjoys a 3-2 commission majority, meaning the Obama FCC merely has to draw up a new Fairness Doctrine and vote to institute it.

The Dallas-based "Point of View" is an example of a talk show that uses the Christian world view to discuss public policy issues. A second category of Christian broadcasting is the pastor who goes on the air to preach the Gospel.

For both, the Fairness Doctrine "is going to have a chilling affect," Kelley tells HUMAN EVENTS.

The process would work this way: a Muslim group such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) or a homosexual rights group such as the American Civil Liberties Union would file a complaint with the FCC because, for example, "Point of View" did not provide a contrasting view.

This would spur a formal FCC investigation involving the 370 radio stations who relay the show to an estimated two million listeners. The commission would be empowered to force the station to present pro-gay rights programing or lose its license. Some stations might opt to cancel the show to avoid the controversy — and the legal expense.

"For the teaching ministry in today’s culture I think they will be dramatically affected," Kelley says. "If you have a pastor who talks of salvation through Jesus, then Muslim clerics will want equal time and to force Christian broadcasters to provide time to competing world views and religions."

"If ‘Point of View’ does a program that deals with the problems of homosexuality, then any station that carries us would be forced to give air time to homosexuals, and I think that most broadcasters, rather than being forced into that situation, would restrict their broadcasters in the content they would put on the air."

Pastore has doubts the Democrats and Obama will be so blatant. He believes a Democratic-controlled FCC will turn to the concept of "localism" to hamstring Christian broadcasters and deny license renewals.

"We are going to take back the airways and give it back to local ownership," is the way the Left will begin the movement, Pastore says.

Under Pastore’s scenario, liberal groups will organize against certain broadcasters under the premise that the public airways should devote more time to local issues of importance. They then file complaints against radio stations across the country. The FCC interprets these complaints as a public outcry and establishes rules requiring stations to devote more time to pressing local issues. The end result: talk show hosts such as Pastore must relinquish air time.

"Lets get a Christian host saying something that a gay listener is offended by," explains Pastore. "Just say that’s wrong. He complaints. You have rally cry on the Left. this will set up the case for localism. Barack comes on and says, ‘I can hear the voices of the people.’"

Parshalls believes the FCC itself will set up panels across the country to monitor talk shows and report to Washington that station X if violating "localism" and needs new ownership.

"So you dilute, dilute, dilute the message of the Gospel until there is no Gospel message left," Parshalls says. "What they want to do is have us sell all kinds of good [but] we believe them to be false except the Gospel of Jesus Christ."