|For Immediate Release
August 30, 2012
Note to Media: An op-ed is attached below the press release for your consideration.
Manassas, VA – The National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) plans to release a proposal to new media companies like Facebook, Google and Apple on how to balance their free enterprise rights with the free speech rights of Internet users.
In recent years, new media companies have been accused of censoring faith-based viewpoints and expressions. In 2010, Apple removed from its iTunes App Store the Manhattan Declaration, a statement of Christian conscience drafted in part by the late Chuck Colson, as well as the app of Exodus International, a leading outreach to individuals, families, and churches impacted by LGBT issues.
More recently, Facebook removed from its site a page created by Gov. Mike Huckabee that called for a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” after the chain's president, Dan Cathy, expressed his unabashed support for traditional marriage. The page was taken down for about 12 hours before appearing again. A Facebook representative reportedly said if the company had deleted the page it was because the “content violated our policies not because of public sentiment.”
“Clearly, these new media web-based tech companies have, at least in part, contributed to the suppression of free speech,” says Craig Parshall, Senior Vice President & General Counsel at the National Religious Broadcasters and Director of the John Milton Project for Religious Free Speech.
Two years ago, NRB launched the John Milton Project to address the threat of viewpoint censorship and to present potential solutions.
On September 12, 2012, NRB will unveil its Free Speech Charter for the Internet, a unique, first-of-its-kind proposal to the free speech/free enterprise dilemma. A press conference has been scheduled on that date at 2:30 p.m. at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, along with a discussion featuring an all-star panel of experts.
Members of the press and other attendees are strongly encouraged to RSVP to Erin Kube at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About NRB The National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) is a non-partisan, international association of Christian communicators whose member organizations represent millions of listeners, viewers, and readers. Our mission is to advance biblical truth; to promote media excellence; and to defend free speech. In addition to promoting standards of excellence, integrity, and accountability, NRB provides networking, educational, ministry, and fellowship opportunities for its members. Learn more at www.nrb.org.
About the NRB Convention The annual NRB Convention & Exposition is the largest nationally and internationally recognized event dedicated solely to assist those in the field of Christian communications. The dynamic Exposition consists of around 200 companies and is an active marketplace for those seeking tools and services to expand their organizations. NRB 2013 will be held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, TN, March 2-5, 2013. For more information, go to www.nrbconvention.org.
The Casualties of Free Expression in America
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Dr. Scott Ferguson, assistant professor in the Department of Humanities & Cultural Studies at the University of South Florida, recently joined other colleges around the nation in trying to ban Chick-fil-A from campus. Ferguson has launched an online petition to kick the chicken fast food service out of the school’s Marshall Student Center.
By now most of us know that the unpardonable “offense” committed by Chick-fil-A’s president, a Christian, was his unabashed support for traditional marriage and his opposition to efforts to redefine the institution. But equally significant is the fact that Dr. Ferguson is using an Internet-based site, change.org, to create his online petition – in effect, using the web as a handy tool to punish a national restaurant chain because its president exercised his First Amendment rights. The Internet, long heralded as the new bastion of openness and freedom of information, also can be used, it seems, as an effective way to shove disfavored or “politically incorrect” ideas outside the city gates.
Another back-story on this Chick-fil-A controversy is equally intriguing and also leads to the same point. When Gov. Mike Huckabee posted his support for Chick-fil-A on his Facebook page and called on people to participate in an “appreciation day” for the food company, Facebook took down his announcement for a full 12 hours. Only after a public outcry was it restored. Facebook has indicated for some time its support for LGBT issues, and for that reason, its “takedown” of Gov. Huckabee’s exercise of free speech, while deeply troubling, was not surprising. But wait! Wasn’t Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, the same person who said at last year’s G-8 conference that open and free communications over the Internet should be credited with the so-called “Arab Spring” in the Middle East? Mr. Zuckerberg, as well as Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt, and Ap ple’s innovative genius, the late Steve Jobs, have all praised, at various times, the concept of expressive “openness” on Internet platforms.
Yet, ironically, all three – Facebook, Google and Apple – have been tools of censorship against Christian ideas. In addition to Facebook’s activities, Google-owned YouTube has banned the pro-traditional marriage message of a youth pastor, and has stripped a number of pro-life investigative reports on the abuses in Planned Parenthood abortion clinics from its site. The web giant also prevented churches and other faith-based organizations from the use of its “Google for Non-Profits” web tool programs, until public pressure from news stories caused it recently to do an about-face. And Apple famously struck from its iTunes App Store the Manhattan Declaration, a statement of Christian conscience created in part by the late Chuck Colson, as well as the app of Exodus International, a leading Christian outreach to individuals, families, and churches impacted by LGBT issues. Cle arly, these new media web-based tech companies have contributed in some measure to the suppression of free speech.
On the other hand, to be fair, it must also be recognized that those Internet technology companies – unlike public universities like the University of South Florida – are private entities, not public ones. The First Amendment only applies to entities which can be deemed to be “state actors” – in other words, agencies or arms of the government, not private companies. Further, these companies have, to a great degree, risen to their current innovative heights because of free market principles that grant them leeway in their corporate decisions and policies. So, how can we balance the free speech rights of citizens on the Internet against those legitimate free enterprise rights of new media companies like Facebook, Google and Apple? How can we keep free speech from becoming, once again, a casualty in America’s marketplace of ideas?
Two years ago, the National Religious Broadcasters launched the John Milton Project for Religious Free Speech to address just those issues. Shocked at the rising tide of anti-Christian and other censorship of otherwise debatable and lawful ideas on the Internet, NRB launched that project to address the problem, and to suggest solutions. Very soon, the association will be releasing a Free Speech Charter for the Internet as a proposal on how this might be done. But meanwhile, Americans of all religious, political, and social views need to be concerned about the movement afoot to stifle ideas just because they make one segment or another of our culture uncomfortable. Here, a study of the Founding Fathers is instructive. After all, nowhere in their vision of America, or in the Declaration they drafted, or in the Constitution they ratified is there any guarantee that ce rtain people or institutions should be protected against hearing or reading ideas they don’t agree with. That kind of guarantee can usually be found in countries with dismal records on matters of freedom, and where the casualties of free expression lead to casualties even deadlier than that.
Craig Parshall is Senior Vice President & General Counsel at the National Religious Broadcasters and Director of the John Milton Project for Religious Free Speech.
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