Bills to protect religious broadcasters on reserved channels, 2000

In 2000, members of Congress introduced four bills to head off FCC restrictions on religious broadcasters using reserved TV channels. The issue arose when a religious broadcaster had agreed to a channel swap with Pittsburgh pubTV channel WQEX and the commission considered requiring it to air some nonsecular “educational” content. See Current stories about the proposed Pittsburgh channel swap and the furor over restrictions on religious broadcasters.

House bill H.R. 4201 (below) | Earlier House bill H.R. 3525 | Senate bill S. 2010 | Senate bill S. 2215

Noncommercial Broadcasting Freedom of Expression Act of 2000, H.R. 4201

Introduced April 6, 2000, by Rep. Charles “Chip” Pickering (R-Miss.) , H.R. 4201 addresses concerns that the FCC will attempt to regulate religious broadcasting on reserved educational channels.

Mr. PICKERING (for himself, Mr. OXLEY, Mr. TAUZIN, Mr. LARGENT, and Mr. STEARNS) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Commerce

A BILL
To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to clarify the service obligations of noncommercial educational broadcast stations.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SEC. 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the `Noncommercial Broadcasting Freedom of Expression Act of 2000′.

SEC. 2. FINDINGS.

The Congress finds the following:

(1) In the additional guidance contained in the Federal Communication Commission’s memorandum opinion and order in WQED Pittsburgh (FCC 99-393), adopted December 15, 1999, and released December 29, 1999, the Commission attempted to impose content-based programming requirements on noncommercial educational television broadcasters without the benefit of notice and comment in a rulemaking proceeding.

(2) In doing so, the Commission did not adequately consider the implications of its proposed guidelines on the rights of such broadcasters under First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

(3) Noncommercial educational broadcasters should be responsible for using the station to primarily serve an educational, instructional, or cultural purpose in its community of license, and for making judgments about the types of programming that serve those purposes.

(4) The Commission should not engage in regulating the content of speech broadcast by noncommercial educational stations.

SEC. 3. CLARIFICATION OF SERVICE OBLIGATIONS OF NONCOMMERCIAL EDUCATIONAL OR PUBLIC BROADCAST STATIONS.

Section 309 of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 309) is amended by adding at the end the following new subsection:

`(m) SERVICE CONDITIONS ON NONCOMMERCIAL EDUCATIONAL AND PUBLIC BROADCAST STATIONS —

`(1) IN GENERAL- A nonprofit organization or entity shall be eligible to hold a noncommercial educational radio or television license if the station is used primarily to broadcast material that the organization or entity determines serves an educational, instructional, or cultural purpose (or any combination of such purposes) in the station’s community of license, unless that determination is arbitrary or unreasonable.

`(2) ADDITIONAL CONTENT-BASED REQUIREMENTS PROHIBITED- The Commission shall not —

`(A) impose or enforce any quantitative requirement on noncommercial educational radio or television licenses based on the number of hours of programming that serve educational, instructional, or cultural purposes;

`(B) prevent religious programming, including religious services, from being determined by an organization or entity to serve an educational, instructional, or cultural purpose; or

`(C) impose or enforce any other requirement on the content of the programming broadcast by a licensee, permittee, or applicant for a noncommercial educational radio or television license that is not imposed and enforced on a licensee, permittee, or applicant for a commercial radio or television license, respectively.’.

SEC. 4. RULEMAKING.

(a) LIMITATION — After the date of enactment of this Act, the Federal Communications Commission shall not establish, expand, or otherwise modify requirements relating to the service obligations of noncommercial educational radio or television stations except by means of agency rulemaking conducted in accordance with chapter 5 of title 5, United States Code, and other applicable law (including the amendment made by section 3).

(b) RULEMAKING DEADLINE — The Federal Communications Commission shall prescribe such revisions to its regulations as may be necessary to comply with the amendment made by section 3 within 270 days after the date of enactment of this Act.


Religious Broadcasting Freedom Act, H.R. 3525

This earlier and narrower House bill was introduced Jan. 24, 2000, by Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) to discourage FCC regulation of religious broadcasting on noncommercial educational channels.

Mr. OXLEY (for himself, Mr. PICKERING, Mr. STEARNS, Mr. LARGENT, Mr. COBURN, Mr. BLUNT, Mr. ARMEY, Mr. SOUDER, Mr. BOEHNER, Mr. BAKER, Mr. BACHUS, Mr. HALL of Texas, Mr. SHIMKUS, Mr. SCARBOROUGH, MR. BURR of North Carolina, Mr. TAYLOR of North Carolina, Mr. THORNBERRY, Mr. SKEEN, Mr. GILLMOR, Mr. DEMINT, Mr. MANZULLO, Mr. SHOWS, Mr. WICKER, Mr. COMBEST, Mr. RILEY, Mr. ENGLISH, Mr. METCALF, Mr. WATTS of Oklahoma, Mr. WHITFIELD, Mr. BONILLA, Mr. BRYANT, Mr. SENSENBRENNER, Mr. SMITH of Texas, Mr. DELAY, Mr. GOODLATTE, Mr. SESSIONS, Mr. LEWIS of Kentucky, Mr. GOODE, Mr. HOBSON, Mr. FOSSELLA, Mr. GUTKNECHT, Mr. NETHERCUTT, Mr. CHAMBLISS, Mr. TIAHRT, Mr. DEAL of Georgia, Mr. RYUN of Kansas, Mrs. CUBIN, Mr. LINDER, Mr. HYDE, Mr. MORAN of Kansas, Mr. SAM JOHNSON of Texas, Mr. BALLENGER, Mr. TALENT, Mr. COLLINS, Mr. GORDON, Mr. HULSHOF, Mr. ADERHOLT, Mr. WOLF, Mr. DICKEY, Mr. HILL of Montana, and Mr. RAMSTAD) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Commerce

A BILL
To require the Federal Communications Commission to follow normal rulemaking procedures in establishing additional requirements for noncommercial educational television broadcasters.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the `Religious Broadcasting Freedom Act’.

SEC. 2. COMPLIANCE WITH RULEMAKING PROCEDURES REQUIRED.

(a) LIMITATION  — After the date of enactment of this Act, the Federal Communications Commission shall not establish, expand, or otherwise modify requirements relating to the service obligations of noncommercial educational television stations except by means of agency rulemaking conducted in accordance with chapter 5 of title 5, United States Code, and other applicable law.

(b) TERMINATION OF EFFECT OF ADDITIONAL GUIDANCE — The additional guidance contained in the Commission’s memorandum opinion and order in WQED Pittsburg (FCC 99-393), adopted December 15, 1999, and released December 29, 1999, shall not be effective after the date of enactment of this Act except to the extent such guidance is prescribed in accordance with subsection (a).


Noncommercial Broadcasting Freedom Act, S. 2010

This Senate bill, similar to H.R. 3525, was introduced Jan. 27, 2000, by Sen. Sam Brownback to require the FCC to follow its usual rulemaking procedures if it is to change requirements for noncommercial educational TV stations.

Mr. BROWNBACK (for himself, Mr. NICKLES, Mr. ASHCROFT, Mr. CRAIG, Mr. SHELBY, Mr. SANTORUM, Mr. LOTT, Mr. ENZI, and Mr. SMITH of New Hampshire) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

A BILL
To require the Federal Communications Commission to follow normal rulemaking procedures in establishing additional requirements for noncommercial educational television broadcasters.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the `Noncommercial Broadcasting Freedom Act’.

SEC. 2. COMPLIANCE WITH RULEMAKING PROCEDURES REQUIRED.

(a) LIMITATION — After the date of enactment of this Act, the Federal Communications Commission shall not establish, expand, or otherwise modify requirements relating to the service obligations of noncommercial educational television stations except by means of agency rulemaking conducted in accordance with chapter 5 of title 5, United States Code, or other applicable law.

(b) TERMINATION OF EFFECT OF ADDITIONAL GUIDANCE — The additional guidance contained in paragraphs 43 and 44 of the Commission’s memorandum opinion and order in WQED Pittsburgh (FCC 99-393), adopted December 15, 1999, and released December 29, 1999, shall not be effective after the date of enactment of this Act except to the extent such guidance is prescribed in accordance with subsection (a).


Noncommercial Broadcasting Eligibility Act of 2000, S. 2215

This bill was introduced March 8, 2000, by Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.).

Mr. HUTCHINSON introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

A BILL
To clarify the treatment of nonprofit entities as noncommercial educational or public broadcast stations under the Communications Act of 1934.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the `Noncommercial Broadcasting Eligibility Act of 2000′.

SEC. 2. FINDINGS.

Congress makes the following findings:

(1) The Federal Communications Commission has attempted to provide guidelines for educational religious programming for noncommercial educational television stations.

(2) Any action defining acceptable religious educational speech violates the provisions of the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States regarding freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, and the establishment of religion.

(3) Broadcasters should be free to engage in any type of religious speech without fear of adverse governmental action.

(4) The Federal Communications Commission should not engage in the regulation of religious speech on noncommercial educational television stations.

(5) A nonprofit corporation should be eligible to operate a noncommercial educational television or radio station if a majority of the programming of the station is substantially related to any tax exempt purpose under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.

SEC. 3. CLARIFICATION OF TREATMENT OF NONPROFIT ENTITIES AS NONCOMMERCIAL EDUCATION OR PUBLIC BROADCAST STATIONS.

(a) IN GENERAL- The Federal Communications Commission shall treat a nonprofit private foundation, corporation, or association as anoncommercial educational broadcast station or public broadcast station for purposes of section 397(6) of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 397(6)) if the majority of the radio or television programming broadcast, or proposed to be broadcast, by such foundation, corporation, or association is substantially related to a tax-exempt purpose under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.

(b) DETERMINATION OF SUBSTANTIAL RELATION- In determining under subsection (a) whether the radio or television programming broadcast, or proposed to be broadcast, by a foundation, corporation, or association is substantially related to a tax-exempt purpose of the foundation, corporation, or association, the Federal Communications Commission shall use the standards used for such determination by the Internal Revenue Service under subsections (a) and (c) of section 513 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.

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