The FCC’s Attack on Religious Liberty
Religion & Liberty Online

The FCC’s Attack on Religious Liberty

20130703_net_neutrality.436xWhat are we to think of net neutrality?

No, seriously, that’s not a rhetorical question—I just can’t remember which side I support. I’ve written about net neutrality at least a half-dozen times (including an explainer piece) and yet for the life of me I can never remember which is the most pro-freedom, pro-market side. Is it opposing neutrality, supporting neutrality, being neutral on neutrality? Opposed, I think. I’m pretty sure it’s opposed.

Perhaps that type of confusion is why so many religious leaders take the wrong side. As Nicholas G. Hahn III notes, many men and women of the cloth gave net neutrality a blessing even though it’s an unlikely assault on religious liberty:

These spiritual shepherds don’t appear to anticipate the religious liberty problem that may come sooner than expected. If clerics believe federal bureaucrats only seek to regulate access, it seems they haven’t read the fine print. The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Clyde Wayne Crews Jr. warns in a March 3 Forbes post that “Extensive regulation of content is all a question of when, not if.” In an October 2009 FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the government indicates its interest in “phrasing one or more of the Internet openness principles as obligations of other entities, in addition to providers of broadband Internet access service.”

Government bureaucrats would then have authority to regulate what pastors (“other entities”) preach online. It all seems to fit with the Obama administration’s watering down of religious freedom to “freedom of worship.” Look no further than the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate that seeks to re-evaluate how churches qualify as “religious;” or the National Labor Relations Board’s fight for unions at Catholic colleges and whether the schools fit its narrow definition of “religious education.”

The faith-based groups who back “net neutrality” worry that a cable company might slow down the speed of a church website it doesn’t like. But before the new FCC policy, that church could ditch that cable company for satellite or DSL. Now, if something goes awry, churches are stuck pleading their case to federal bureaucrats. Like in 2011, when the FCC suddenly began lifting closed captioning exemptions for small- to midsized churches.

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Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).