USCCB Clarifies Its Position on the Regulation of Hate Speech

Deal W. Hudson
October 29, 2009

This past Monday I reported that the USCCB Department of Communications is listed as a “principal partner” on the “So We Might See” Web site. So We Might See is a coalition of religious groups that are petitioning the Federal Communications Commission to investigate “hate speech.”

Since the page on the organization’s Web site displaying the petition also contained specific allegations that Rush Limbaugh incited violence against two Mexican men in 2006, I reported that the USCCB was also supporting an investigation of Limbaugh.

Helen Osman, Secretary of Communications for the USCCB, responded to my article in a series of e-mails, denying that the USCCB was “participating in any campaign to censor any news organization, program, or commentator.”

According to Osman, the USCCB “shares So We Might See’s general commitments to improving access to broadband among the under-served; to reducing violence in all media; and to reducing the excess of advertising in children’s programming.”

Osman also sent me a copy of the USCCB’s July 29 petition to the FCC, which she said was prompted by a request from the National Hispanic Media Coalition to the FCC asking for an inquiry into hate speech. The NHMC was alarmed by what is considered to be the demonizing content of talk radio hosts directed at Mexicans, and the rise in violence that may have been prompted by it.

The USCCB petition mentions its own concerns about a “variety of questions” raised by the NHJC petition. For example, “Would expressions of religious teachings be deemed hate speech?” Or, “Would Roman Catholic teachings on marriage or homosexuality be deemed hate speech by some gay rights advocates?”

The USCCB petition also asks about the FCC’s legitimate role in defining and regulating hate speech. It asks, “When does speech criticizing, or even demonizing an identified group of people, become an incitement to violence?” And, “Is defining the term ‘hate speech’ a legitimate exercise of the FCC’s statutory authority to regulate broadcasters in the public interest, convenience, and necessity?”

It’s safe to say that the USCCB petition in no way reflects the attitude expressed on the So We Might See Web site, or in the blast e-mails sent by one of its staffers, Rev. Ben Guess. Osman explained the intent of their own petition: “One reason we are eager to see the inquiry opened is that it will present an occasion to alert the FCC to the serious constitutional and regulatory problems associated with regulating hate speech.”

Because the tenor and content of the USCCB petition differed so starkly from that of the So We Might See Web site, I asked Osman if there were any plans to remove the “principal partner” identification of the USCCB Department of Communications from the Web site. She wrote in response:

We continue to be in dialogue with other members of the So We Might See coalition on ways that we can continue our collaboration on the key issues of the coalition… We are also working with the coalition to help make clearer to the public the USCCB’s distinct reasons for supporting the FCC’s opening a Notice of Inquiry.

When I asked her whether she meant there would be no change in the USCCB relationship with So We Might See, Osman replied, “No, I couldn’t guarantee what the future holds.” It appears, then, that there are presently no plans to remove the USCCB’s “principal partner” designation from the Web site.

It will be interesting to see whether the conversations presently underway between the USCCB and the So We Might See coalition will encourage the latter to drop their allegations against Limbaugh. Without changes to the Web site, however, the ongoing “principal partner” designation of the USCCB Department of Communications will continue to confuse Catholics regarding the bishops’ concern about the regulation of hate speech.

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