Inhofe: Senate Democrat Amendment Threatens Christian Radio

On March 3, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., took the Fairness Doctrine and its often overlooked potential threat to Christian radio to the Senate floor.

The Oklahoma senator gave a lengthy floor speech and mentioned that Sen. Jim DeMint's effort to force an up-or-down vote on the Fairness Doctrine issue, which passed 87-11 in the Senate, was a good beginning.

"Last week's vote was the first nail in the coffin of the Fairness Doctrine, but it was not the end of the attempt on the part of some people to regulate the airwaves," Inhofe said. "Now, I have long been outspoken on this issue, and it gives me great satisfaction that so many of my colleagues voted in favor of free speech over government regulation last week, but the debate has changed."

He warned that an amendment offered by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., which passed 57-41, was equally as threatening.

"In a straight party-line vote, Democrats chose to adopt Sen. Durbin's Amendment 591, which calls on the FCC to quote, ‘encourage and promote diversity in communication media ownership ... and to ensure that broadcast station licenses are used in the public interest.' That's a quote and essentially it makes an end-run around the Fairness Doctrine."

Inhofe explained it could be potentially most threatening to Christian radio, since legal precedence has been established for the FCC to regulate the content of that medium.

"Any enforcement of government regulation of the airwaves could have a serious detrimental effect, not only on talk radio, but also on the willingness of Christian broadcasters to air political, and perhaps even religious, messages," Inhofe warned. "It is well known that the only radio station ever taken off the airwaves was a Christian radio station, WGCB in Red Lion, Pa. In that particular instance the supposed offense was a personal attack against the author of a political publication."

He explained that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) might look toward that precedent to to force Christian radio to clamp down on its messages.

"The ACLU and other liberal organizations could attempt to file lawsuits against anyone who presents a message that they deem to be counter to federal localism and diversity regulations," Inhofe continued. "And although I believe these lawsuits would ultimately fail on First Amendment grounds, the chilling effect that the mere threat of a lawsuit will have on religious broadcasters could be substantial."

Since the Durbin's amendment was left vague, it could give the FCC a much wider reaching authority to enforce it however they wish and thus leave any potential outcome up to that bureaucracy.

"This legislation is so incredibly vague and so potentially far-reaching that I can't say with any certainty what the end result will be," Inhofe said. "This is not good governance and it is not good legislative practice to cede such authority to any agency of our government, specifically when the right to speak freely over the airwaves will most certainly be impacted.