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NRB Unveils Free Speech Charter for the Internet

Free Speech Charter ReleaseAfter months of anticipation, NRB unveiled its Free Speech Charter for the Internet last week as a potential solution to the clash between free speech on the Internet and the free market power of new media giants like Apple, Google and Facebook to block viewpoints with which they don’t agree.

Detailed in the first-of-its-kind charter is a proposal for what new media companies can do to respect free speech and how and why they should do it in accord with historic free speech principles. 

“[T]he leaders in these new media giants have often spoken of the values of openness and freedom of information on the Internet and on their web-based platforms. If those statements are made in good faith, and we are willing to believe that they are, then these companies should be willing to establish free speech standards for their citizen users that aspire to the highest levels of expressive liberty, not the lowest,” states the charter.

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.”

While efforts have been made to dialogue with new media companies over censorship concerns, the dialogue to date has been one-way, as noted throughout the two-hour press event.

"We want a dialogue [but] the dialogue at this point seems to be in one direction – from us to them and we wait," noted Craig Parshall, Senior Vice President & General Counsel and Director of the John Milton Project for Religious Free Speech.

So, to get the ball rolling, NRB drafted the Free Speech Charter and brought together a panel of experts to discuss the issue. Among the participants were Steven Waldman, Founder of BeliefNet.com and Senior Media Policy Scholar at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; Colby May, Senior Counsel at the Washington, DC, office of the American Center for Law & Justice; Adam Thierer, Senior Research Fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center; and Brian W. Walsh, Executive Director of the American Religious Freedom Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Also present to offer remarks was Steve Bradford, Vice President of Operations for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian World View, who joined the event as a surprise guest. Before the panel discussion, Bradford offered an insider’s look at Apple’s rejection of the Manhattan Declaration app and the Colson Center’s efforts to get it back to the iTunes App Store.

While some may think the Colson Center “rolled over” and gave up on their app after its removal, Bradford shared the many steps that his team had taken to get the app back up.

“We had no idea that after contacting the president, going to the board of directors, asking people to sign petitions, that you could get absolutely no response from them on what to do next. And so, at this state, we still have no app,” Bradford shared.

Despite the lack of response, NRB is taking strides to bring about a solution, starting with the Free Speech Charter.

 “We represent not just Christian broadcasters, but also Christian communicators of a wide variety of stripes,” noted Parshall during the press event. “We … believe that the message that we carry about Jesus Christ and the redemptive plan is important because it changes lives and impacts eternity. That’s why we are so vigorous in insisting on a level playing field, a free market place of ideas.”

To view the entire event, click here.

PHOTO ABOVE: L-R Craig Parshall, NRB Senior Vice President & General Counsel and Director of the John Milton Project for Religious Free Speech; Steven Waldman, Founder of BeliefNet.com and Senior Media Policy Scholar at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; Colby May, Senior Counsel at the Washington, DC, office of the American Center for Law & Justice; Adam Thierer, Senior Research Fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center; and Brian W. Walsh, Executive Director of the American Religious Freedom Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Published: September 20, 2012