by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has denied signing on to a petition to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that accuses conservative radio and television personalities of “hate speech.”
An article that appeared in the Oct. 20 issue of the American Spectator accused the USCCB of being involved in a petition sent to the FCC by So We Might See, a national inter-faith coalition for media justice, that accuses personalities such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage and Lou Dobbs of promulgating hate speech.
Several religious groups are listed as “principal partners” with So We Might See, including the Office of Communications for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the National Council of Churches, Islamic Society of North America, and others.
The petition sent to the FCC by So We Might See calls for an update of the 1993 report on “The Role of Telecommunications in Hate Crimes” issued by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which advises the president on telecommunications policy.
The NTIA is now headed by Lawrence E. Strickling, a Chicago attorney who, prior to his confirmation, was chairman of the FCC’s Enforcement Task Force and policy coordinator of Obama for America (now known as Organizing for America).
The petition is asking Strickland to consider categories of hate speech such as “false facts,” “flawed argumentation,” and “dehumanizing metaphors” and “divisive language.”
The last category could be particularly problematic for those Americans who are interested in exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech.
“This kind of nebulous criteria makes any sort of earnest criticism of a politician, a party, a public policy, or legislation subject to being tagged as hate speech,” writes Deal Hudson of InsideCatholic.com.
Hudson questions whether President Obama would consider Keith Olbermann of MSNBC guilty of hate-speech for calling Pres. George W. Bush a “fascist,” or Rachel Maddow, also of MSNBC, who called Rush Limbaugh “racist” for comments he never made.
“President Obama doesn’t seem to think so, since he invited both Olbermann and Maddow to a private, off-the-record briefing at the White House last Monday,” Hudson points out.
What becomes of the petition remains to be seen, but Helen Osman of the USCCB’s Department of Communications told the Catholic News Agency that while the USCCB is one of the groups in the So We Might See coalition, the USCCB did not join the petition.
“USCCB shares So We Might See’s general commitments to improving access to broadband among the under-served; to reducing violence in all media; and to reducing the excess of advertising in children’s programming. But USCCB does not join in every action of the group, as in the case of this petition,” Osman said.
“In any event, we are certainly not participating in any campaign to censor any news organization, program or commentator,” she added.
Instead, Osman provided CNA with the USCCB’s own letter to the FCC, sent on July 29, requesting a forum to discuss the “serious constitutional and regulatory problems associated with regulating hate speech,” Osman explained.
For instance, participants in the forum can discuss questions such as whether or not expressions of religious teachings would be considered hate speech.
“For example, would Roman Catholic teachings on marriage or homosexuality be deemed hate speech by some gay rights advocates?” Osman explained. “Similarly, some religions may deem the religious beliefs of others to be hateful, but when, if ever, should that characterization bear legal significance?”
The USCCB expressed support for “a broad public forum” in which to debate such issues in “a respectful manner.”
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