Fordham station sues for PTFP grant eligibility

Reportedly denied eligibility for a federal equipment grant because it carries one church service a week, Fordham University’s WFUV-FM has sued the Commerce Department for relief.

Both the university and the Commerce Department’s Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP) apparently use First Amendment arguments to justify their cases.

The Jesuit university says Commerce is violating its First Amendment right of free speech as well as the Communications Act, which it says prohibits government control of program content.

And PTFP’s overseer, new Assistant Secretary of Commerce Larry Irving, reportedly believes that awarding equipment grants to stations with religious programming would undermine the church/state separation required by the First Amendment.

Irving’s spokesman Larry Williams said the agency is not commenting on the matter because of the pending lawsuit. But WFUV General Manager Ralph Jennings said Irving told him that the station’s religious programming disqualifies it from receiving PTFP aid.

Fordham, which seeks a $262,852 grant toward a new transmission facility that would increase its coverage up the Hudson Valley, last year won a PTFP ruling that it was eligible, before Irving took office.

FCC rules require the station to build a new transmission facility, according to Jennings, but its construction permit expires next June.

PTFP ”offered us the unacceptable choice of abandoning up to 10,000 home-bound and elderly listeners who depend upon this public service [the weekly Mass] or risking the loss of our license to serve the New York community,” Jennings said in a press release.

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