Saturday, August 27, 2011

The 3 - August 28, 2011

As we reflect on this last full week of August, "The 3" is back to look at an ministry opportunity for Christians reaching out with the love of Christ to help the victims of Hurricane Irene. Also, a Florida teacher who came under fire for a politically incorrect Facebook post was allowed to go back in the classroom. And, our top story involves a decision announced this week that directly affects the freedom of speech for Christian broadcasters.

3 - Christian relief agencies prepare to respond to Irene destruction

As Hurricane Irene made its slow trek up the East Coast of the United States, bringing high winds and widespread flooding, Christian relief agencies were prepared to swing into action. With damage, especially from flooding, expected to reach a large area, many will need that helping hand and word of encouragement.

Operation Blessing is headquartered in Virginia Beach, which is in an area that received a direct hit from the storm, and it pre-staged staff and equipment, according to this piece in Charisma News.

And, Southern Baptist disaster relief teams were planning to move into the affected areas, partnering with churches and ministry organizations throughout the entire coastal region, according to this report from Baptist Press.

We remember, as tomorrow is the 6th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, that one of the storylines of that disaster was the role that the church played in helping the region get back on its feet. And, no doubt, there will be many from North Carolina to Maine that will receive necessary assistance as the church reaches out with physical and spiritual support.

2 - Florida teacher reinstated after suspension resulting from Facebook post

I would imagine that the veteran teacher saw it as an opportunity to share his personal opinion and perhaps engage some of his students. Afterward, the words became grounds for his suspension and subsequent reinstatement.

His name is Jerry Buell, last year's "Teacher of the Year" at Mount Dora High School in Lake County, Florida. As he viewed news coverage of the state of New York's legalization of gay marriage, he was disappointed that the state had engaged in this affront to the traditional, Biblical definition of marriage. He also was repulsed by the sight of two "grooms" kissing. He posted his opinion on his personal Facebook page. A graduate of the school almost a decade ago reported the comments to school board officials, and Jerry Buell, an exemplary teacher, became another example of the way that some people in authority these days are intimidated by the gay agenda to the extent that they would punish someone, anyone, who dares to criticize the homosexual lifestyle.

Harry Mihet, Senior Litigation Counsel of legal advocacy organization Liberty Counsel, who agreed to represent Mr. Buell, shared some of the details and free speech issues of the situation in an interview on The Meeting House last week.

It was announced on Wednesday that Jerry Buell had been reinstated to his position effective immediately, for which there was celebration. But, another issue has emerged - according to Mihet, a "written directive" was placed in Buell's personnel folder, and some statements of his faith that Buell had placed on the school website and in his syllabus have allegedly been questioned - in fact, on the website, where Buell had written that he tries to "teach and lead my students as if Lake Co. Schools had hired Jesus Christ himself" have been removed. Here's a report from the Orlando Sentinel. So, while Jerry Buell has been allowed to go back into the classroom, there may be an issue concerning his freedom of expression that will be explored.

1 - Fairness Doctrine removed from FCC's regulations

At one time, the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates broadcast programming in America, had instituted what is known as the "Fairness Doctrine", requiring broadcasters to provide commentary presenting both sides of a controversial issue. Until this week, that provision had been part of the FCC's book of regulations. However, the Doctrine had been rescinded during the Reagan administration, in 1987.

The reversal of the Fairness Doctrine that year marks a significant event in broadcast content - after that point, you saw the rise of talk radio, with hosts that presented one particular viewpoint of the issues of the day. Conservative talk radio is believed to have grown because it reflected the perspective of a sizable portion of the population, and the genre was quite popular, driving listeners to the AM band and generating revenue - many broadcast outlets were able to sell commercial time during these programs as they became more popular. Christian radio also showed growth in its dedication to dealing with the issues of the day with a Biblical perspective. Broadcasters were no longer burdened with having to present multiple sides of an issue. And, as the Internet became more popular and there were an increasing number of cable television outlets, there was no shortage of variety regarding views on significant issues.

Following the election of President Obama, who was not particularly popular with a number of these types of outlets because of his policies (not his personality), there were some who were calling for the Fairness Doctrine to be reinstated. However, with the free speech concerns of many across the political spectrum, there was never enough traction in Congress for it to be reinstituted.

And, this week - it was officially removed from the FCC's regulatory book. Dr. Frank Wright, President of National Religious Broadcasters applauded the ruling, saying that:

We are delighted that FCC Chairman Genachowski has followed-through on his promise to fully eliminate this pernicious rule, which enabled the FCC to compel broadcasters to air opposing viewpoints on controversial issues that the government decided to be of public importance.
Here is the complete statement from NRB.
Now, it's important that broadcast free speech advocates are vigilant regarding attempts to implement the spirit of the Fairness Doctrine, under the guise of a concept called "localism", where advocacy groups could organize to intimidate stations to broadcast certain types of programming on a local level. These groups could also threaten protests over an outlet's license renewal if these "local" matters are not reflected in the programming. This would be an affront to nationally-syndicated programs that broadcast a conservative and/or Christian perspective. As Dr. Wright said,
There are many voices calling for increased scrutiny of broadcast programming under the guise of ‘localism,’ and we see such proposals as a Fairness Doctrine in different garb.
Stuart Shepard of CitizenLink and Family News in Focus joined me to discuss free speech issues, including the removal of the Fairness Doctrine from the official annals of the FCC.

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