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Craig Parshall, General Counsel

 

Tyranny, Revolution and NRB’s New John Milton Project for Religious Free Speech

 December 15, 2010

Once again, history repeats itself. National Religious Broadcasters was originally birthed in 1944 to deal with two forces: first, to utilize the exploding revolution in broadcast media (then, limited to radio and television); second and even more to the point, to oppose the forces of subtle bureaucratic tyranny that had all but squeezed Christian, Gospel-oriented content off the broadcast airwaves in the preceding years. This de facto censorship had occurred because of the decisions of big network media and the federal government, with the blessings of some media academics. Now we see these two forces at work again. This time, it is the digital revolution in communication, plus the censorship of Christian ideas over these new media technologies. Once again, NRB is prepared to respond.


Tyranny: During the Thanksgiving holiday, Apple yanked the Manhattan Declaration from its iTunes store, censoring the Declaration from its iPhone apps after originally offering it. The Declaration movement describes itself as a “call of Christian conscience,” setting forth a statement of principles supporting traditional marriage, the sanctity of human life, and religious liberty. The censorship occurred because of the supposedly “offensive” viewpoints espoused in the Declaration’s defense of the Biblical concept of marriage. Apple apparently caved in to a well orchestrated Internet petition campaign by Change.org, a pro-gay rights group. This is no isolated problem. Recently, after being lobbied by gay rights advocates, Facebook agreed to closely monitor and ban “hateful” postings, which likely will mean the censorship of Christian-based criticisms of same-sex marriage or homosexuality, at a minimum. In the past, Google has been accused of blocking Christian content in its search engine advertisements and closing down a traditional values website. But the problem of an anti-Christian gag rule extends beyond the private business sector. Last week, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission placed the issue of Internet regulation (“net neutrality”) once again on the FCC’s docket. Far from insuring full First Amendment protections, this proposal could portend a complex web of federal rules that would stifle, rather than enhance, free speech on controversial topics like same-sex marriage or religion.

Revolution: In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Eric Schmidt, Chair and CEO of Google, and Jared Cohen, Director of Google Ideas, write that the digital revolution in “new media” and communications is likely to cause governments around the world to face “mini-rebellions that challenge their authority.” Their prediction came true when, almost simultaneously, WikiLeaks digitally distributed thousands of classified documents of the U.S. government over the Internet, disrupting our foreign diplomacy and potentially impacting our wars abroad and our security at home. There is no question that we are witnessing a communications revolution unparalleled since the invention of the Guttenberg printing press. Yet, as NRB works with an exciting new breed of electronic and digital missionaries around the world, we also see the unparalleled opportunities to reach every tongue, tribe and nation with the eternity-changing message of Jesus Christ. In order to protect the access of Christians to these new media platforms, we have looked to a figure who fought to protect an earlier communications phenomenon: the printing press.

John Milton Project for Religious Free Speech: NRB, through its General Counsel’s Office, has commenced a project that will monitor the threats of anti-Christian censorship on new media platforms, as a result of decisions and practices in both the private sector, and those made in the public, governmental sector. We will be releasing periodic reports on what we see, and what we think should be done about it. The project is named after John Milton, the 17th century poet (Paradise Lost) and apologist for Christian ideals. Milton made history’s first and most notable moral argument against England’s tyrannical restriction in 1643 on the freedom of the printing press. The Gutenberg printing press changed the world, not merely because it ushered in a new method of distributing information, but because it made the printed Bible universally available and accessible.

Here at NRB, we intend to fight for the freedom of Christian communicators to communicate the Gospel of Christ on every media platform known to man. It is a battle no less momentous than the struggle over the freedom of the printing press. In his defense of freedom of access to the media technology of his day, Milton wrote that he “who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book [through tyrannical, regulatory censorship], kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were in the eye.” Our prayer and our mission is that every eye, and every ear, through every form of electronic and digital media, will have access to the Word of God. As long as that happens, men and women, as well as boys and girls, will be able to fully and freely confront the revolutionary, life-changing claims of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Word made flesh.