Good new for the Supreme Court

Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions bring encouragement

FCC’s family friendly regulations upheld

To be sure, most of the news coming from our federal government during the past 106 days has been discouraging. How else can you describe the news that our Homeland Security Department classifies Christian conservatives as among the nation’s greatest terrorist threats? Or the news that “leftover” human embryos can now be destroyed for experimentation? Or that pedophiles may soon become a protected class?

But like a day of warm sunshine in the midst of a overcast, stormy season, we certainly welcome two encouraging pro-family decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court, both pertaining to broadcast decency.

“Fleeting” indecency is still indecency!

First, on April 28, the Supreme Court upheld the right of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to treat the use of “fleeting” expletives on public airwaves as a violation of broadcast decency law. The high court’s decision in Fox v. FCC overturned a ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that Fox Broadcasting Company should not be held liable for breaking the FCC’s rules prohibiting the use of indecent language on broadcast TV during times when children might be watching.

The case originated after indecent utterances were aired in two live broadcasts by Fox television stations. During the 2002 Billboard Music Awards, Cher, upon receiving an “Artist Achievement Award”, used indecent language (“the F-word”) during her acceptance speech. Only a year later, during the 2003 Billboard Music Awards, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie used similar indecent language. Both vulgar statements were aired to millions of people across the country, including children.

The FCC subsequently fined Fox and released Notices of Apparent Liability for a number of broadcasts that the Commission deemed actionably indecent, including the two very publicized examples above. Fox appealed the FCC’s censorship to the Second Circuit.  That court held that the indecent language aired was merely “fleeting expletives” and that Fox should not be held liable.

The Supreme Court disagreed. In an opinion penned by Justice Scalia, the Court held that the FCC was fulfilling its mission from Congress to patrol the public airwaves for descriptions or depictions of sexual or excretory functions, whether used literally or as expletives.

Said Scalia, “Programming replete with one-word indecent expletives will tend to produce children who use (at least) one-word expletives.”

How much outrage does it take?

And then there is the case involving the infamous airing of Janet Jackson’s breast by CBS during the 2004 Super Bowl, a prank that shocked millions of unsuspecting families, including children, enjoying the Super Bowl TV tradition.

The FCC’s case against CBS had been thrown out by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which justified its ruling by saying that the Super Bowl incident had not resulted in sufficient public outrage. As if Congress had not been inundated by phone calls, e-mails and letters! As if the FCC had not been barraged by complaints! And as if the story had not become the top news story for weeks!

The Supreme Court did not buy that reasoning either, and yesterday ordered the Third Circuit to reexamine its ruling.

A matter for prayer.

In the Fox v. FCC ruling, which prompted the “fleeting expletives” decision, Fox and the other networks also challenged the authority of the FCC to make such rulings on the basis of the First Amendment. Neither the Second Circuit Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court ruled on that constitutional question.

Said Justice Scalia, “Whether [the policy] is unconstitutional will be determined soon enough, perhaps in this very case.” In the meantime, he wrote, “any suppressed “references to excretory and sexual material surely lie at the periphery of First Amendment Concern.”

Pray that the Court will continue to realize and rule that indecency is not a form of speech protected by the First Amendment.

Meanwhile, bask in the good news of two pro-family, pro-decency decisions!