HOME > NEWSROOM > ARTICLES > The New Inquisition

The New Inquisition

Free SpeechRecently, 12 members of the House of Representatives signed on to H.R. 3878, a bill that would launch an investigation into any “role” that might be played by radio, television, and the Internet to supposedly “encourage” the commission of hate crimes. I have been following this issue, in all its various forms, for several years in Washington, and I have no hesitation in saying that this proposal is not only audacious, but it would, if passed, be downright dangerous. Such an “investigation” would be a prelude to proposed free-speech-infringing regulations that would be almost certain to follow.  

Here is the convoluted background of this First Amendment-oppressive proposal. In 1993, the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA), which was directed to conduct the same kind of investigation as is outlined in H.R. 3878, came out with its report. In its findings back then, however, the NTIA found itself fumbling for an adequate definition of the kind of “hate speech” that could theoretically lead to “hate crimes.” The best it could do was to conclude, essentially, that such hate speech is “speech that creates a climate of hate or prejudice.” As we can see, that gives no guidance to broadcasters whatsoever, let alone to citizen bloggers on the web. I am sure that any similar investigation by the NTIA will yield definitions that are no clearer. But lack of clarity is not the biggest problem. In 2009, advocacy groups, following up from the NTIA report, asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to investigate conservative talk radio and television commentators for alleged incidents of “hate speech.” Though that petition was never acted on, within the communications culture the use of misplaced “hate speech” labels to squelch expression by conservatives, proponents of traditional values, and Christians has occurred so frequently as to become legendary.

“Hate” labels (or their semantic equivalent) have been used by Facebook to shut down the Facebook pages of FOX News & Commentary pundit Todd Starnes and Gov. Mike Huckabee because they posted viewpoints consistent with conservative Christian principles. Apple used the same excuse to strip the late Chuck Colson’s Manhattan Declaration, a statement of orthodox Christian conscience, from its iTunes App Store. And Google, in its running of YouTube, has blocked legitimate religious content for similar “hate speech” reasons. This scourge of free speech censorship has widened to the point of abject silliness: in one recent incident, Facebook decided that the posting of a fitness expert had to be blocked as hateful and her account taken down because she criticized the use of plus-size models in advertisements and had argued that such ads encouraged obesity. 

It must be pointed out, though, that H.R. 3878 does add a caveat: any NTIA recommendations that issue from its investigation, the bill states, must be “consistent with the First Amendment to the Constitution.” If that is really true, then we are all safe, because that would necessarily mean that there would be no politically motivated inquisition into radio, television, or the Internet as proposed, and there would be no more wrong-headed proposals about “hate speech;” in other words, America, there should be no H.R. 3878. 

By Craig Parshall
Senior Vice President & General Counsel, National Religious Broadcasters
Director, John Milton Project for Free Speech    

Click here to read more articles written by Craig Parshall.

Published: January 30, 2014

Latest News

National Religious Broadcasters Marks 70th Anniversary

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the National Religious Broadcasters, which was established with the focus of defending and expanding access to electronic media platforms for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

FCC Chairman Engages on Future of Broadcasting

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler offered his thoughts this week on what the future of broadcasting could...

Supreme Court Turns Down First Amendment Case

The U.S. Supreme Court this week decided not to take up Elane Photography v. Willock, a case in which a professional photographer...

Nearly Half of House Publicly Oppose Performance Tax

Nearly half of all Members of Congress in the U.S. House of Representatives now publicly support the Local Radio Freedom Act...

NRB Chairman Bill Blount Meets, Greets NAB Leaders

Newly elected NRB Chairman Bill Blount had the opportunity this week to meet and speak briefly with the President and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters as well as its Chairman.

Cornerstone Network Celebrates 35 Years of Broadcasting

Cornerstone Network will mark its 35th anniversary on Tuesday, April 15, and plans to celebrate its history and future with an array of activities, including an on-air celebration, the release of a new book, and the launch of new television programs.

Irreplaceable: Focus on the Family's First-Ever Movie Event on May 6

Irreplaceable, one of the largest initiatives that Focus on the Family has ever undertaken, will be presented one night only in more than 700 select movie theaters around the country.

In Memoriam: Norma Pederson, Wife of Reach Beyond President Wayne Pederson

Norma Pederson, the wife of Reach Beyond President Wayne Pederson, passed away Thursday, April 3, after a yearlong battle with cancer.

Walking with the Enemy: Mark Schmidt Adapts True Decades-Old Story from Nazi-Occupied Hungary

Last week, the Rev. Mark Jenkins, NRB President's Council Member and Minister of Media at Grove Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, VA, invited several NRB staff to attend a screening of Director Mark Schmidt's Walking with the Enemy, produced by Liberty Studios.

CIN Study Highlighted at Senate Hearing

Following up on a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, members of the Senate Commerce Committee began their review of the...

More News