Employment discrimination by religious broadcasters:
The Federal Communications Commission requires all broadcasters
to follow its Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) rules which
prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, national
origin, religion, and gender. However, until early 1998, it allowed "religious
broadcasters" to take advantage of a partial exemption from these
rules. [They define a "religious broadcaster" as "a
licensee which is, or is closely affiliated with, a church, synagogue, or
other religious entity, including a subsidiary of the religious entity."]
Such broadcasters were allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion by
refusing to hire or by firing some employees who do not "share
their religious affiliation or belief." The exemption was limited
to those who "espouse religious views over the air."
Thus, a radio or TV station affiliated with the Seventh Day Adventist
Church could fire one of their announcers or talk-show hosts if the
latter had a religious conversion to Buddhism or became a Mormon. But they
could not terminate or refuse to hire a bookkeeper, maintenance person or
receptionist on religious grounds.
On 1998-FEB-25, they issued an unofficial notice stating that "religious
broadcasters may establish religious belief or affiliation as a job
qualification for all station employees." So, a Buddhist
receptionist or bookkeeper can now be fired on the grounds of her/his
religion, even though their job did not involve a religious component.
This ruling is binding on all radio stations and, because of limitations
within the Communications Act, is a non-binding policy statement for TV
The FCC appears to justify this decision on two grounds:
||Religious broadcasters felt that the previous ruling "excessively
entangled the government in the affairs of religious entities."
||Trying to decide whether or not an specific employee met the "espousing"
guideline was a bureaucratic nightmare.
As in so many civil rights cases, there was a conflict between two
||the right of an employee to not be discriminated against on the
basis of their religious beliefs, and
||the right of a religious employer to be religiously intolerant if
they wish and achieve a homogeneous workplace where everyone shares
"a common commitment to a licensee's basic religious objective
and mission." 2
Fortunately, all broadcasters are still prohibited from discriminating
on the basis of race, color, national origin, or gender.
One FCC commissioner, Harold W. Furchtgott-Roth, issued a separate
statement on this 1998 policy. One of his concerns was how to determine
whether a employee was a member of the religious group which sponsored the
radio or station. For example, a Roman Catholic employee could still
consider themselves to be a Catholic even though they had been
excommunicated by the Church because they remarried.
Regulating religious content of non-commercial educational TV:
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution begins:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the
freedom of speech..."
This Amendment erected a wall of separation
between church and state which has been beneficial both to religion
and the public. This contrasts with the situation in many other countries
of the world which have a various degrees of integration between religion
and government. This linkage between state and faith has led to loss of
civil rights and a weakening of religion in many areas of the world.
During late 1999-DEC, in an apparent violation of the First Amendment,
the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a series of regulations
which would have severely limit the religious content on non-commercial, educational
television (NCETV) stations. (Many decades ago, the FCC reserved 20% of
the FM broadcast band for non-commercial educational broadcasting. This
was later extended to TV. There are currently about 373 NCETV stations in
the U.S. of which about 20 are religious broadcasters.) December's
regulations were passed with a 3 to 2 vote by the FCC board.
The new requirements would have stipulated that NCETV broadcasters devote at
least 50% of their programming to topics that promote the "educational,
instructional or cultural needs of the community." The FCC states
that most religious programming would not qualify towards that
The FCC statement said, in part:
"In order to comply with the requirement that a NCETV (Non
Commercial Educational television) station 'be used primarily to serve
the educational needs of the community,' we now clarify that this
requirement is twofold.
||First, with respect to the overall weekly program schedule, more
than half of the hours of programming aired on a reserved channel must
primarily serve an educational, instructional or culture purpose in
the station's community of license.
||Second, in order to qualify as a program which is educational,
instructional or cultural in character, and thus counted in
determining compliance with the overall benchmark standard, a program
must have as its primary purpose service to the educational,
instructional or cultural needs of the community. We 'will defer
to the judgment of the broadcaster unless' the broadcaster's
'categorization appears to be arbitrary or unreasonable..."
Conversely, however, not all programming, including programming about
religious matters, would have qualified as 'general educational'
programming. For example, programming primarily devoted to
"religious exhortation, proselytizing, or statements of
personally held religious views and beliefs generally would not
qualify as 'general educational' programming..."
The FCC gave a few examples of programs of a religious nature that it
felt would meet the "education or cultural" needs of the
community, and thus would qualify towards the 50% quota :
||Programs which showed the religious funeral of a political leader.
||"Programs analyzing the role of religion in connection with
historical or current events."
||"Exploring the connection between religious belief and
physical and mental health."
||Broadcasts which examined "the apparent dichotomy between
science, technology and established religious tenets..."
Various religious organizations have responded negatively to the FCC
ruling. Unfortunately, "media reports and press releases from
religious groups have inaccurately suggested that it covers the full range
of broadcasting stations, including radio outlets." 7
The ruling is actually restricted to NCETV stations and does not affect
any radio broadcasters -- commercial or educational.
||Karl Stoll of the National Religious Broadcasters complained:
"What the government is doing here is restricting certain
types of religious expression, which we feel is
unconstitutional...It's a problem when the government gets
involved in determining what is educational and cultural and what is
||On 2000-JAN-6, four congressmen [Rep. Mike Oxley (R-OH), Rep. Chip
Pickering (R-MS), Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), and Rep. Steve Largent
(R-OK)] wrote a letter to the chairman of the FCC complaining that the
commission "had no business - no business whatsoever -
singling out religious programming for special scrutiny." They
called the new guidelines "an unconstitutional restriction on
According to DayWatch for 2000-JAN-11, "The
vice-chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications,
Representative Michael Oxley (R-OH) plans to introduce legislation to
reverse the FCC's new guidelines limiting religious content on public
television airwaves when Congress reconvenes on January 24th...'In
our free society, the FCC has no business suppressing the expression of
religious belief,' Oxley said. 'I know the FCC will try to put a good face
on this action, but the simple truth is the Commission is restricting
those who express faith. This is wrong, and it cannot stand.' " 8
The FCC restrictions would probably have give new life to the tenacious Christian
urban legend which states that the late Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the well known
Atheist activist, had promoted a FCC petition. It is alleged that PM 2493
would eventually ban all religious broadcasting by radio and television
stations. She is alleged to have petitioned also for the elimination of
Christmas songs, programs and carols from TV, radio stations, schools and
office buildings. None of that is true, but the rumor lives on.
According to the Conservative News Service, Cornerstone TeleVision
has refused to accept a broadcasting license from the FCC, because of the new
guidelines. Cornerstone had originally applied for the license as part of a
business deal with public television station WQED in Pittsburgh, PA. Their president
Oleen Eagle said that the guidelines would "...jeopardize our ability to
carry out our mission...there is no benefit that would justify the sacrifice of
religious freedom required by the new FCC standards."
On 2000-JAN-28, the FCC reversed its ruling by a four to one vote. 9The Commission said: "In hindsight we see the difficulty of
minting clear definitional parameters for 'educational, instructional or
cultural' programming, particularly without the benefit of broad comment.
Therefore, we vacate our additional guidance. We will defer to the editorial
judgment of the licensee unless such judgment is arbitrary or unreasonable."
Commissioner Michael Powell said in statement, "As I predicted
in my dissenting statement opposing this 'additional guidance' in the
original order, it has opened a Pandora's Box of problems. In today's
decision we put the lid back on the box."
Commissioner Gloria Tristani voted against the reversal, saying, "This
is a sad and shameful day for the FCC. In vacating last month's
'additional guidance,' ... this supposedly independent agency has
capitulated to an organized campaign of distortion and demagoguery."
Rep. Michael Oxley (R-OH) called the reversal "a complete and
total victory for free religious expression. Religious broadcasters and
their listeners were a target for an FCC that sought to limit their
freedom to express religious faith. It was wrong, and I'm thrilled that
the FCC has seen the error of its ways."
Micropower religious broadcasting:
FCC regulations permit some unlicensed FM broadcasting by "micropower"
radio stations. However, they were typically limited to less than 1 watt of
power and are thus restricted to a range of a few thousand feet or less.
Commercial and educational licenses are only granted to stations
broadcasting over 100 watts. Various fees and the cost of engineering
studies raise the licensing costs to over $50,000 per station. Between the unlicensed
stations under one watt and the licensed stations over 100 watt, lies a
no-man's land, currently occupied by as many as 1,000 illegal "pirate
radio" stations. These are underground stations, typically
operated by individuals and involving perhaps a few thousand dollars
have interesting names, like Free Radio Berkeley, Radio X, DC
Protest Radio, and Radio Mutiny. 5 The FCC
located and closed
down hundreds of these every year.
Low cost licensing of micro radio stations between 1 and 100 watts will provide a much greater
diversity of opinion than is currently heard on regular radio. Robert
McChesney, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
wrote: "By failing to accommodate the creation and use of new
micro radio technologies that are simple and inexpensive to operate, the
FCC has failed to meet its obligation to establish a licensing scheme that
meets the public interest." 4
William E Kennard, FCC chairman since 1997, proposed that the
airwaves be opened up to "low-power FM broadcasters, so that
everyone from university students and church groups to independent radio
producers and civil rights activists could enjoy greater access to
listeners. After reviewing a series of petitions filed on behalf of
self-proclaimed "microbroadcasters" yearning for a legal on-air
voice, Kennard last January  introduced a proposal for new low-power
FM broadcast licenses that could allow thousands of small broadcasters to
operate at power ratings of between 1 to 10 watts, 100 watts, and 1,000
watts, filling in the gaps that now separate bigger stations' signals on
the FM dial." 6
The proposal was approved on 2000-JAN-20. Noncommercial stations with a
few watts power and a range up to seven miles will be allowed
broadcast. The FM radio airwaves would be accessible to small groups of
all types. Anyone with a few thousand dollars to invest in equipment, and
a small army of volunteers could
establish a religious broadcasting station and reach at least a portion of
their city. License applications are expected from individual churches,
schools, "alternative musicians, and highway departments that want
to warn commuters about traffic problems." The National
Religious Broadcasters object, saying that the microbroadcasters might
create static or distorted signals for established stations. [To the
author, an Engineering Physics graduate having taken a communications
option, this argument seems rather weak.]
"FCC modifies EEO enforcement for religious broadcasters,"
Report MM 98-2, at: http://www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Mass_Media/News_Releases/
FCC "Order and Policy Statement," adopted 1998-FEB-5.
Online at: http://www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Mass_Media/Orders/1998/fcc98019.txt
"FCC sets its sights on religious broadcasters,"
Maranatha Christian Journal, 2000-JAN-11 at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000110c.htm
The Freedom Forum Online has a series of essays on micro power
radio at: http://www.freedomforum.org/speech/series/
"Micropower radio stations on the Web" at: http://www.infoshop.org/stations.html
Alex Markels, "Low power to the people," at: http://www.motherjones.com/mother_jones/JA99/
"Religious groups protest controversial FCC ruling,"
AANEWS bulletin, 2000-JAN-11
"Bill Seeks To Reverse FCC Religious
Broadcasters Ruling," Maranatha Christian Journal,
"Under fire, FCC reverses religious broadcasting ruling,"
Maranatha Christina Journal, from a Conservative News Service release. See: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000129a.htm
Copyright © 2000 & 2002 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2000-JAN-11
Latest update: 2002-AUG-5
Author: B.A. Robinson