|Craig Parshall, General Counsel|
May 23, 2012
Last Tuesday, National Religious Broadcasters launched another event sponsored by its John Milton Project for Religious Free Speech, this one on Capitol Hill. The roundtable discussion, held in the Cannon Office Building of the House of Representatives, confronted a particularly thorny issue: In the wake of continuing anti-Christian and anti-religious censorship on new media web platforms, how do we preserve free speech values on the Internet, while also respecting free market principles that have energized innovation in companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook? The event was kicked-off by Jacki Pick, Counsel and Deputy Chief of Staff for Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ). Speaking on behalf of Rep. Franks, she expressed deep concern over the pattern of viewpoint censorship against Judeo-Christian opinions on web-based communication platforms, as documented by the white paper report of our John Milton Project entitled True Liberty in a New Media Age (September 2011). Dr. Frank Wright, NRB’s President & CEO, gave a historical introduction to NRB’s vested interest in preserving religious free speech on all available communication platforms.
As the director of the John Milton Project, I had the privilege of being joined on the panel by a stellar group: FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell; Ryan Anderson, William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society at the Heritage Foundation; and Kelly Shackelford, President & CEO of the First Amendment legal organization, Liberty Institute. Greg Baylor, Senior Counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, moderated the discussion which explored, for the benefit of Washington policy groups and Capitol Hill staffers, ways in which the current conflict between religious free speech values and free market principles might be reconciled. The stakes are continuing to rise on this dilemma: Last week, YouTube, owned by Google, banned a message by orthodox Rabbi Yehuda Levin, labeling it “hate speech” because it criticized the gay rights movement. For similar reasons, YouTube also censored a Christian youth ministry, You can Run but you can’t Hide International. The key here, all of our panelists seemed to agree, was to find a way to cause these private media technology companies, which are not technically bound by the First Amendment, to respect freedom of speech in its fullest sense in both their policies and their practices. This is a problem that cannot be ignored. Commissioner McDowell described the current move to solve some censorship issues by creating an international body to supervise and monitor the Internet on a global scale. Proposals would vest control in one of two United Nations agencies: either the International Telecommunications Union or the Committee for Internet Related Policies. Commissioner McDowell painted a distressing picture if the web is placed under governmental control, and stated his preference for continued private control of the Internet by private tech companies. While all of the panelists agreed with that goal, it is clear that this will require public awareness, and likely public pressure applied on new media giants to get them to embrace a healthier free speech approach. Regarding the need for public education on this issue, the interview that CBN aired Monday night on this issue might serve as a good start.