Critics Fear Free Speech Crackdown amid Mideast Riots

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WASHINGTON -- The violent attacks on the U.S. embassies in the Muslim world this week in part stemmed from a chaotic call to restrict speech: Rioting Islamists demanded a film that casts Mohammad in a negative light be banned.

Those keeping an eye on the stifling of religious freedom already taking place in America are worried scenes the Mideast unrest could increase pressure to shut up controversial speech by Christians.

Their biggest concerns: access to the Internet and the so-called New Media companies that control it.

Officials at the National Religious Broadcasters charge Web giants like Apple, Google, and Facebook already silence religious speech.

"We have continued to see examples of censorship which we believe we all ought to feel uncomfortable about and find them to be somewhat disturbing," Craig Parshall, general counsel for the NRB, said.

Parshall cited examples of YouTube blocking pro-life videos by the group Live Action that exposed questionable practices and standards at some Planned Parenthood branches.

Then there was the mysterious shut down of former Gov. Mike Huckabee's Facebook page after he organized a petition supporting Chick-fil-A and traditional marriage. Facebook called it a mistake, but Huckabee said he believed it was no accident.

"We caught a 12-hour bug. Apparently it hits when large numbers of Christians support something and post about it on Facebook!" Huckabee wrote in a Facebook post after the incident.

One of the first public cases of this censorship resulted from The Manhattan Declaration, organized by Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson.

Apple pulled the declaration's iTunes App because its signers opposed abortion and same sex marriage.

Colby May, senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, said it's easy to see why those running the New Media would want to quell controversial speech.

"From their perspective as companies, they want to have as little controversy in the public eye as possible," May told CBN News.

"So if they can simply say, 'Let's not talk about those things that create controversy,' well then they're naturally, just instinctively going to do it, whether they want to do it with animus or not," he said.

Now the NRB and its allies have drafted the "Free Speech Charter for the Internet." It calls for the New Media's protection of all speech that flows through cyberspace, just like the First Amendment protects the free speech rights of all Americans.

"Whatever the Supreme Court has said about what the First Amendment allows is what you should allow," Parshall said.

The charter, Parshall explained, declares the only prohibited speech would be the kind that's criminal or violent or obscene.

"You can't incite people to violence. You can't communicate obscenity," Parshall said. "If the FCC were involved, you can't communicate indecency to children."

"We're asking the same kind of standard here," he said. "Those very limited number of exceptions. Everything else ought to be allowed."

"What's good is to have more speech, not less speech," Colby said. "And don't put yourself in the position of trying to decide whether this viewpoint is acceptable or that viewpoint is acceptable."

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.