First Amendment At Risk

, Emily Ham, Leave a comment

For many congressional representatives, this year Fourth of July is not only a day to observe the freedoms Americans hold dear, its also the deadline to sign a petition that could be the dividing line between broadcast freedoms and a form of governmental censorship and control.

At a press conference held on June 11 (Radio Independence Day), members of Congress, the press and organizations throughout Washington D.C. gathered on the steps of the Cannon Senate Building to ask Congress members to stand up for broadcasters’ rights.
Speakers beseeched the House members who in 2007 signed a one-year moratorium against the Fairness Doctrine to sign a discharge petition that would allow the Broadcaster Freedom Act (BFA) to be brought to the House floor, debated, and voted on.

“Last year 309 members of Congress, [from] both sides of the aisle, voted to put a one-year moratorium in place. But now that we have a discharge petition to make this permanent law, the Democrats who voted with us last time don’t seem to want to step forward and do what they did last year. And I think it’s time for America to work,” said Representative John Bohener (R-Ohio.)

Representative Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who introduced the BFA, said the petition needs 218 signatures from House members in order for the BFA to be reintroduced in time for Representatives to vote on the issue before this year’s presidential election.

According to the U.S. House of Representative’s Clerk’s Office, 200 members of Congress had signed the petition as of June 26 with a remaining 18 signatures needed before the act can be discussed and voted on.
“American people need to know if 218 members of Congress signed this petition, we could demand an up or down vote on legislation that would keep the Fairness Doctrine from ever coming back,” Pence said.

But with less than a week remaining until the deadline Pence and his colleagues set on June 11, it appears that House Democrats do not want to participate in discussing the issue.

“To force an up or down vote on the house floor, along with House Republican leadership gathered here and Congressman [Greg] Walden, I filed a discharge petition on the Broadcaster Freedom Act on October 17, 2007,” Pence said.
“In the 238 days since we filed our petition for an up or down vote, nearly every Republican in Congress has supported this petition and not one single Democrat has signed the discharge petition for broadcast freedom,” he added.

At the press conference, Pence called for the action of members of Congress who’d given their support for the one-year moratorium but have yet to sign the petition.
“As Independence Day approaches and the legislative calendar contracts, we offer this challenge. To every member of Congress who voted for a one-year moratorium on the fairness doctrine but have not signed our Discharge Petition for Broadcast Freedom, we say to our colleagues on the Democrat side of the aisle, declare your support for freedom and against censorship. Declare your independence from the democratic leadership in Congress and sign the Discharge Petition for Broadcast Freedom by the Fourth of July,” Pence said.

Pence said he had an idea as to why some signatures would be harder to get than others.
“Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and the Democrats in Congress have refused to schedule the Broadcaster Freedom Act for an up or down vote. Why? Because, I believe, Democrat leaders in the House and the Senate have made it clear. Democrats in Congress want to bring censorship back to the airwaves of America. Democrats in Congress want to restore the so-called Fairness Doctrine,” Pence said.

Recently, Pelosi (D-Cal.) seems to have confirmed Pence’s suspicions regarding Democrats’ reluctance to sign the petition. According to Human Events’ report by John Gizzi, Pelosi told a group of some 40 reporters she would not be signing Pence and Walden’s discharge petition and reportedly told Gizzi the purpose of the discharge ran counter to the goals of her caucus.

Gizzi said he asked Pelosi if she personally supported bringing back the Fairness Doctrine, and Pelosi responded with a “yes.”

After hearing of Pelosi’s comments, Pence addressed the House of Representatives on the matter.“I say to Speaker Pelosi with respect, ‘Defending freedom is the paramount interest of every Member of the American Congress.’ I urge my Democrat colleagues to take a stand for freedom. Oppose the Democrat leadership’s plan to censor the airwaves of American talk radio and American Christian radio,” Pence said.

But in order to collect the 18 signatures from the Democratic party, Boehner said American citizens will have to be proactive.

“I’ve seen this process work many times. When the American people engage themselves in the political process, members of Congress will listen,” Boehner said. “And so if constituents will get hold of their member of Congress and hold them accountable, guess what? We’re going to win,” he added.

A list of all members of the House can be found at, a site launched at the press conference by Americans for Tax Reform on June 11.
On the Web site, Representatives are separated into three groups of people: “Hypocrites, heroes and zeros.”

However, according to Representative Trent Franks (R-Arizona), there are certain issues that shouldn’t cause separation between political party members at all.

“What we’re talking about here is there is nothing, nor should be anything partisan about the first amendment. Freedom of speech is the basis on which this country and our realm of existence is founded upon. And so this Congress ought to act,” Franks said.
“There is nothing fair about the Fairness Doctrine. We ought to have the ability to talk about this, put it back on the floor and let’s really see again where the members of Congress are because I believe that overwhelmingly the majority is with the freedom of speech,” Franks added.

Emily Ham is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia. Video by AJC intern Santiago Leon.