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Facebook, others, urged to allow free speech

WASHINGTON (BP) — Media giants such as Facebook, Google and Apple should voluntarily abide by the First Amendment’s free speech requirement and fulfill their role as “gatekeepers to new web-based communications platforms,” according to a new proposal from the National Religious Broadcasters.

NRB presented its proposal Wednesday (Sept. 12), underscoring its concern that new media companies have stifled religious free speech. NRB offered the recommendation in a new document, “Free Speech Charter for the Internet,” made public at a Washington, D.C., news conference.

“We are calling on the better angels of their nature to come up out of the shadows to dialogue with us and others about solving this problem because it will increase, I believe, not decrease,” said Craig Parshall, NRB senior vice president and general counsel, as well as director of the association’s John Milton Project.

Though media corporations are privately owned and have the property rights to their own devices, they do not have the right to demand individual users change their view or content upon condition of being published, NRB said.

NRB’s proposal could provide significant, large-scale change, said Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center.

“There are millions of Americans who will be responsive to this message,” Haynes told Baptist Press. “The more people who are seen as outraged and upset, the more likely these sites will change.”

NRB offered the proposal as a solution to the religious censorship problem it noted in last September’s report, “True Liberty in a New Media Age.” The new report calls on giant web-based corporations to enhance a free marketplace of ideas by “voluntarily adopt[ing] robust, free speech standards.”

NRB’s report included many examples of religious censorship throughout the Internet:

— The most recent instance of censorship cited occurred when Facebook took down a page created by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee that called for a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. This took place soon after Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A’s president, acknowledged his unabashed support for traditional marriage between a man and a woman. The page was removed for 12 hours but restored after a public outcry.

— Of its 425,000 apps, iTunes barred from its store the Manhattan Declaration, a Christian statement created in part by the late Chuck Colson that promotes traditional marriage and the sanctity of life. It took the same action against Exodus International, a Christian support system for individuals and families affected by homosexual issues.

— YouTube removed the video of a rabbi giving a documentation of the Old Testament view of traditional marriage and a series of documentaries of pro-lifer Lila Rose’s undercover work at Planned Parenthood clinics that showed employees supporting unethical or illegal practices.

“Successful platforms of communications are now becoming an engine of constraining speech,” said Frank Wright, NRB’s president and chief executive officer.

Though such media giants are not required to allow free speech under constitutional law, NRB is stressing the benefits for these companies if they do give voice to the complete marketplace of ideas. Instead of acting on the whim of the greater public, they will have set a standard by which to build free enterprise and speech for all, according to NRB.

“It is bad precedent to say we can censor what we don’t like,” said Brian Walsh, executive director of the American Religious Freedom Program, during a panel discussion after the release of the NRB document at the National Press Club.

NRB has sent individual letters to Apple, Google and Facebook regarding its proposal but has received no response.
Anne Reiner, a senior at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa., is attending the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities’ Washington Journalism Center this semester and serving as an intern with Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Anne Reiner