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In the latest twist on an urban legend that will not die, an e-mail message is making the rounds purporting to be a warning from Focus on the Family’s James Dobson about a supposed attempt to ban religious broadcasting from America’s airwaves.

The Focus on the Family Web site declares the e-mail “absolutely false,” which in some forms says Madalyn Murray O’Hair was behind the removal of “Touched By an Angel” from network television.

The bogus e-mail claims Dobson is asking 1 million Christians to sign a petition opposing RM-2493, which the rumor says has been granted a hearing by the Federal Communications Commission and would halt all broadcasts of Sunday worship services, as well as to remove Christmas programs and carols from public schools.

The FCC Web site confirms that the rumor is false, adding that there is no federal law that gives the agency authority to ban or inhibit religious broadcasting.

The version mentioning Dobson is the latest evolution of a rumor that has been around since 1975. The original rumor said that O’Hair, the prominent atheist who succeeded in removing prayer and Bible reading from public schools in the 1960s, was now behind a drive to ban all religious broadcasting, according to the Web site urbanlegends.com.

The reference to O’Hair by name gradually was dropped after she was missing for many years and eventually declared dead. But the e-mail says her organization is still pursuing the petition.

The FCC did consider a real petition number RM-2493 in 1974 by Jeremy D. Lansman and Lorenzo W. Milam to investigate religious organizations that had been granted broadcasting licenses, according to urbanlegends.com. The petition also requested that the FCC not grant any new licenses to such groups until the inquiry was completed.

The FCC rejected petition RM-2493 in 1975, however, and Madalyn Murray O’Hair had nothing to do with the petition.

More recent incarnations of the urban legend also claim that CBS was forced to remove “Touched by an Angel” because it contained too many references to God.

The FCC has received more than 30 million pieces of mail about the rumor since 1975, in addition to faxes and e-mails too numerous to count, according to Focus on the Family.

A Baptist pastor who contacted EthicsDaily.com said two church members had e-mailed him in the last two weeks asking him to sign the petition. While he recognized the familiar theme, he requested that EthicsDaily.com provide an “authoritative” voice to expose the petition as a scam.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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