WASHINGTON, D.C. (The Hollywood Reporter) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 29 turned back a religious broadcaster’s attempt to undo federal regulations that govern the distribution of broadcast licenses intended for public TV and radio stations.
By refusing to hear the case brought by the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Assn. (AFA), the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit was left intact, which held the Federal Communication Commission’s method of awarding noncommercial educational licenses constitutional. The AFA is a national Christian ministry that owns and operates 113 noncommercial educational stations. It also has been one of the most frequent filers of indecency complaints at the commission.
Public broadcasters compete for the licenses under a points system. The commission gives points based on local ownership, technical expertise and whether the station is affiliated with a statewide educational institution. Whoever receives the highest points wins the license.
The AFA argued that the commission’s system is a content-based violation of the First Amendment because it favors secular broadcasters like NPR and PBS over religious broadcasters.
In a unanimous decision, the three-judge appellate court panel rejected those arguments.
“Nothing on the face of the point system inherently favors nonreligious speakers,” Judge David Sentelle wrote in the opinion last year. “Organizations are equally eligible for points whether or not they are religious. That preference results only because such public affiliates [like NPR and PBS] are more decentralized, and therefore, in the FCC’s view, will advance the content neutral goals identified by the FCC better than the affiliates of centralized organizations like AFA will.”
The court also rejected AFA’s arguments that it violated constitutional protections for religious practices because it is a “religious gerrymander.”