An old urban legend turned recent e-mail hoax regarding the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and religious broadcasting is decades old and untrue, according to FCC officials.
“CBS will be forced to discontinue ‘Touched By an Angel’ for using the word GOD in every program,” reads the e-mail hoax. “[The] petition, number 2493, would ultimately pave the way to stop the reading of the gospel of our Lord and Savior, on the airwaves of America.”
The urban legend about religion and the FCC has circulated since 1975. It emerged recently as an e-mail hoax focusing on the discontinuation of the CBS program “Touched by an Angel.”
The hoax asserts self-proclaimed atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair and her organization have received “287,000 signatures” with a petition that will “ultimately” ban religious programming.
O’Hair has been missing and presumed dead since 1995, according to About.com’s Urban Legends Web page.
“Sunday worship services being broadcast on the radio or by television will be stopped,” reads the e-mail. “This group is also campaigning to remove all Christmas programs and Christmas carols from public schools!! You as a Christian can help!”
The petition, “routinely assigned the number RM-2493,” was not filed by Madalyn Murray O’Hair but by Jeremy D. Lansman and Lorenzo W. Milam in 1974, according to the FCC.
RM-2493 asked the FCC to explore operating practices of religious stations. It also asked no new requests for licenses be granted to religious stations until after the completion of the FCC inquiry, according to the FCC Web page.
The Lansman-Milam petition was denied on August 1, 1975, according to the FCC site.
Because of “millions of inquiries” inspired by the hoaxes in two decades, the FCC has published information about laws regarding religious broadcasting in newspapers, religious publications, TV Guide and Time magazine, according to an FCC Web page.
“There is no federal law or regulation that gives the FCC the authority to prohibit radio and television stations from presenting religious programs,” read the FCC “Consumer Facts” Web page. “Broadcasters, not the FCC, nor any other governmental agency, have the responsibility for selecting the programming that is aired by their stations.”
Such hoaxes cause unnecessary traffic for organizations like the FCC, wrote David Emery, in an article for About.com’s Urban Legends Web page.
“E-mail hoaxes have become so prevalent that they’re regarded in some quarters as a threat to network integrity comparable to that of actual computer viruses,” wrote Emery. “The threat posed to individual users is less dramatic, but in these days of ever-increasing spam people are getting fed up with the amount of garbage clogging their inboxes.”
The hoaxes survive because of “new and inexperienced users unfamiliar with Netiquette and unaware of how rampant misinformation is on the Internet,” wrote Emery.
Be familiar with anti-hoax resources and have “cut-and-paste templates” ready to send in answer to e-mail hoaxes, he suggested.
“There are few solutions at this point beyond redoubling our efforts to expand awareness and change people’s habits,” Emery wrote.
Also practice discernment in forwarding e-mail, said Cliff Vaughn, project coordinator for the Baptist Center for Ethics.
“Don’t assume your friends always pass along legitimate stories,” said Vaughn. “While no deception may be intended, all of us, at some point, probably contribute to the vast wasteland of misinformation. Before asking friends to attach their names and pass e-letters on, take some time to investigate.”
Sarah Griffith is BCE’s communications coordinator.