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Phantom Petition 2493

The defenders of the faith have been hard at work to defeat petition 2493 to the Federal Communications Commission. For over 25 years these outraged Christians have sustained a campaign of letters and phone calls to the FCC. At one time, there were as many as 4,300 letters per day demanding that the FCC reject this heinous document.

Petition 2493, according to its opponents, was introduced by the well-known atheist, Madalyn Murray O’Hair to prohibit all religious broadcasting on TV and radio. They alleged that the enemies of Christianity were planning to use the government to deny the constitutionally guaranteed right to religious expression to millions of Americans. The situation was intolerable. Thanks to the efforts of the National Religious Broadcasters and the Oklahoma-based Christian Crusade the nation was alerted to this threat to our liberty. The word was spread through church bulletins, sermons, and Christian chain letters that action must be taken to prevent this atrocity.

There’s just one little problem: the petition, as described by the NRB and the Christian Crusade does not and never did exist. It is, in fact, a rumor based on a petition submitted in 1974 by Jeremy D. Lansman and Lorenzo W. Milam who wanted to start a non-profit community outreach radio station. But they were unable to acquire the space on the FM band because so much of it had been taken up by religious broadcasting using bandwidth that was actually reserved for educational programming. So, they decided to petition the FCC to inquire into the performance of stations in possession of educational broadcasting licenses to determine if they were abiding by the guidelines required for such licenses. O’Hair was never associated with the petition. The FCC rejected the petition on August 1, 1975.

By 1976, after receiving 3,715,000 pieces of mail, the head of administrative services for the FCC, Harry Shockro, stated that he was spending a third of his time dealing with the avalanche of mail. When he put the mailroom on overtime to handle the additional mail they became too tired to perform their regular jobs. So, at additional cost to US taxpayers, he hired 3 more part-time employees just to handle the 2493 issue.

By 1989, despite efforts by the FCC to extinguish the rumor, they had received 22 million pieces of mail from these well-meaning but deluded people. Since the FCC is required to open the mail it receives, the cost to taxpayers continued to escalate. The letters continue to pour into the FCC.

Recent editorials in the Southern Baptist Witness (SBW), the official news journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention, have officially admitted that the petition is a rumor and there has never been any effort before the FCC to eliminate religious broadcasting. But few people read these SBW editorials. Due to the fact that the rumor continues to circulate widely in religious circles it appears that little effort has been expended by the churches or religious establishment to debunk the rumor. Moreover, the Southern Baptist Church continues to distort the facts of the case.

In an editorial in the April 19, 2001 edition of the SBW, executive editor, James A. Smith, said that he is “convinced” that “well-meaning Christians were being taken advantage of by not-so-well-meaning unbelievers who wanted to make Christians look silly.” Yet Smith can cite not even one atheist or humanist organization that has ever taken part in promoting the rumor. He offered no evidence to justify these accusations. He even admitted that he had encountered the rumor in e-mail from Christian friends.

Instead of informing the Christian community of what is known about the actual origins of the rumor, especially the role of the NRB and the Christian Crusade, Smith set about prolonging the life of the rumor by pointing fingers at the government and other people who had nothing to do with spreading the nonsense. As he put it, “Given the increasing level of hostility against Christians evident in our society, including our government at times, it’s easy to see how we might believe there could be an effort to banish Christian broadcasting.” His effort to increase people’s suspicion of the government and non-Christians was clearly intended to draw them closer to the church by feeding them misinformation.

Despite years of wasted effort and government resources, the leadership of the Southern Baptist Conference simply could not pass up the temptation to resurrect this long-discredited rumor which apparently still has some use as a tool for their propaganda and fund-raising. It seems that the Baptists saw this as an opportunity to portray Christians as a persecuted group in order to, perhaps, impart some meaning to the boring religious exercises and irrelevant sermons that have resulted in the decreasing church attendance.

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