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fcc religious broadcasting ban




From: glennd@StarConn.com (Glenn Davis)
Subject: Re: Alleged attempt to ban religious broadcasting
Date: 1 Apr 92 10:23:06 GMT

In article <1992Mar30.163306.5690@mlb.semi.harris.com> mmalson@x102a.ess.harris.com (Mark Malson) writes: >>
>> For some years the story has been circulating that Madalyn Murray O'Hair
>> (of "American Atheist") has petitioned the FCC to ban all religious
>> broadcasting. Usually, one hears the story in the form of a Xeroxed
>> sheet imploring us to write to the FCC immediately and protest.
>>
>> HOWEVER, what I need now are hard facts to confirm the debunking.
>> Has the FCC issued a press release? Was this matter ever in the FCC Record?
>> Or was it reported in a major newspaper? I have access to the FCC Record
>> and many newspapers on microfilm, so if given an approximate date, I can
>> track it down.
>>
>> Does anybody have any specifics?

The petition number is no rumor.
Here is a summary of the references below:

In the 1960s and 1970s, Jeremy Lansman and Lorenzo Milam were trying to help minority groups set up small non-commercial FM radio stations. They were frustrated with their difficulty and with the ease that religious stations seemed to have.
They filed a petition (RM-2493) with the FCC with 3 requests; the 3rd one was:

(3) Request for 'Freeze' on all Applications by Religious 'Bible',

        'Christian', and other Sectarian Schools, Colleges, and Institutes
        for Reserved Educational FM and TV Channels.

Lansman and Milam argue that religious proselytizing is not educational.

The petition was received December 5, 1974 and a rumor soon started that Madalyn O'Hair had filed 27,000 signatures supporting the petition, and that this was an attempt to stop all religious broadcasting. By the summer of 1975, the FCC had received 750,000 letters protesting Ms. O'Hair, who was not connected with the petition in any way.

The FCC rejected the petition on August 1, 1975, but the rumor never died. The high point was 1976, when almost 5 million letters were received. It fell to about 1 million in 1982 and continued at about that rate up to 1989 (there is a graph in [3]).
In total, over 23 million letters have been received by the FCC.

In April 1977, the Senate of Illinois passed a resolution condemning Madalyn O'Hair for "her" petition (see [1]).

In 1979, the FCC began to issue letters to be printed in newspapers across the land; a letter from the Oakland (California) Press, February 18, 1979, is reprinted in [2]. It denies the rumor and asks for help in telling other people "what the facts are".
The Chairman of the FCC also got $250,000 from Congress (date not given in [2]) to squelch the rumor by answering 100,000 letters and sending out 50,000 letters to clergy and other religious leaders. On March 30, 1982 the FCC put out an official "Public Notice", asking the assistance of media, business, and religious groups to stop it. They also put out a pamphlet titled "Religious Broadcasting and the FCC".

In April 1982, the FCC had 8 telephone persons and 5 mail persons devoted full-time to RM-2493. Twelve to twenty Congressional inquiries were received every day (see p. 27 of [2]).

According to [2], the letter writing campaign is well organized by churches. One FCC official noted, "... It's usually a woman's club or church group, and if you track it back far enough, it turns out to be an anonymous pamphlet or brochure that somebody didn't have guts enough to sign."

Today it seems to be spread mostly by photocopied notices. An example of exactly this kind of distribution (through mailbox stuffing) to the Austin Texas police department is reported in [4].

  1. Chicago Tribune. April 3, 1977.
  2. "The Phantom Phenomenon Christinsanity Strikes Again". American Atheist. May 1982. pp. 10-20. (reprinted in pamphlet form and available from AA).
  3. Los Angles Times. April 14, 1990.
  4. Austin American-Statesman. February 3, 1992.



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