Complaint to FCC on religious broadcasts is a fraud

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 8, 2001

The alarm is currently being circulated that "Madeline Murray O’Hare’s people" have formally petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC Petition No.

Monday, January 08, 2001

The alarm is currently being circulated that "Madeline Murray O’Hare’s people" have formally petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC Petition No. 2493!) to order CBS to take "Touched by an Angel" off television "because it mentions God in every episode" and that, further, this will quickly lead to "a total ban on all religious programming on radio and television."

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Religious people and everyone concerned about freedoms are being incited to counter-petition. The first problem is there is not a shred of truth to any of this. As genuinely alarming as it would be if the FCC attempted to ban religious broadcasting, all such claims are not only totally false but a blatant fraud.

I excuse reflex by people who have become sincerely alarmed by the government’s increasing infringements upon religious freedom and, indeed, growing hostility toward religion. I can further understand people being sucked into this when the information appears to be so authentic as to include a specific petition number. People who are deceived now, however, just have not been paying attention during the 25 years this fraudulent rumor has been circulated and consistently disproved by FCC and its fraudulent status confirmed by National Religious Broadcasters.

When I was admitted to professional membership in NRB more than 20 years ago, this alarm already was discredited, chronic and very exasperating. Initially, it was claimed that Madeline Murray O’Hare, the noted atheist and aggressor against religion, had so petitioned the FCC. It was easy to believe that if anyone would attempt such a violation of American freedoms, it would be she, because she was profoundly irrational and outrageously hostile. However, even she never attempted such an egregious thing. Of course, then, religious broadcasting was never threatened and the FCC never even considered the matter. It officially asserted so repeatedly. But the protests by religious people kept coming. NRB kept confirming FCC’s denial.

Its general counsel is none less than the Hon. Richard E. Wiley, a partner in the Washington law firm of Wiley, Rein, and Fielding and himself formerly FCC chairman. You can be sure that he watches this carefully and would be the first to raise an alarm. Periodically, as this illusive rumor again raises its head, NRB advises and reassures members. To be doubly sure for this column, however, I phoned Karl H. Stoll, NRB’s communications director. He confirms the rumor is as untrue now as it has been for 25 years. No one has even bothered to change the alleged petition number. (One would think they could at least try 666.) The only thing that is different is the new twist about "Touched by an Angel."

Stoll invites my readers to read his full explanation at and access the news releases.

I am bold to label this fraud, because it is no accident. Someone could misunderstand an expression of someone’s worry about what might one day take place. But someone manufactured this petition number specifically to deceive sincerely concerned people. However sincere and concerned a person is, however, to pass this alarm on uncritically is to become implicated in the fraud.