ATLANTA (BP)–A federal appeals court has suspended a July 9 injunction that would have resulted in the immediate removal of Southern Baptist television programming from the DISH satellite network. The lawsuit that brought the action, however, still threatens to keep the FamilyNet television off the satellite.
Sky Angel, a satellite network that provides Christian programming on DISH, sought the injunction. Sky Angel filed suit last winter when DISH added FamilyNet and another Christian network, Daystar, to their satellite feed, citing a contractual agreement it said prohibited DISH from offering any Christian programming except Sky Angel’s.
A federal court judge in Denver, Colo., issued the original injunction, but the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the ruling July 11. Sky Angel has until July 18 to file a response.
Randy Singer, executive vice president of the North American Mission Board, FamilyNet’s parent organization, said he was disappointed by the initial ruling but very encouraged by the appeals court action.
“I’m thankful that the stay order allows FamilyNet to remain in those millions of homes that subscribe to DISH while this issue is being decided,” Singer said. “And, I’m hopeful that this will provide an opportunity for our side of the issue to be shared with the court.”
FamilyNet, from studios located in Fort Worth, Texas, provides family and values-oriented television programming to more than 13 million homes through local cable outlets as well as through nearly 100 affiliate television stations across the country.
According to Singer, the contract between DISH and Sky Angel uses a “convoluted” description of Christian programming, including a requirement that it be “solely marketed to the Christian theme and content.”
“Although a majority of FamilyNet’s programming is Christian, it is not marketed solely to a Christian audience,” Singer said. “The primary purpose of FamilyNet is to reach a non-Christian audience with the Gospel. And, the most frustrating aspect of this whole thing was that the court never heard that argument, because neither FamilyNet nor Daystar was called to testify during the three-day hearing.”
Singer, who is also an attorney, said the case raises constitutional rights issues.
“DISH has a legal obligation to provide a certain amount of public access programming, and they chose FamilyNet because they believed we have the best programming,” He said. “Now, DISH could be ordered to remove our network solely because we’re Christian. I pray that doesn’t happen.”
Singer said FamilyNet has several options to consider, “not the least of which is to pray that the stay order will be made permanent, and that arbitration proceedings ordered by the district court will allow FamilyNet to have access to these millions of homes and unbelievers.”
“We’re also considering our own legal obligations,” he said. “We didn’t ask for this dispute, but we can’t sit idly by if life-changing programming is banned from all of these homes.”
In the meantime, Singer said, “God is in control. None of this is a surprise to Him. In fact, God has a perfect plan for FamilyNet, and I believe this is a part of it. Our responsibility is to stay close enough to Him to know and follow His will as we seek to reach the 7 out of 10 people in North America who claim no personal relationship with Him.”