A 25 Year Old Urban Legend Strikes Cape

Editorial written by James Baughn on Tuesday, April 4, 2000

from the today-is-not-april-fool's-day dept.

Urban legends and hoaxes have a strange way of propogating across both the offline and online world. Like a mutant virus, these stories and warnings spread rapidly while undergoing alterations and embellishments. They spread far and wide, and many people believe them.

Today, one urban legend reached the Opinion page of the Southeast Missourian. The letter, titled "Help stop petition to take God off TV" describes an attempt by Madalyn Murray O'Hair's athiest organization to remove any religious programming from television via FCC Petition 2493.

It's a hoax.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) webpage about this hoax states quite bluntly,

There is no federal law or regulation that gives the FCC the authority to prohibit radio and television stations from presenting religious programs. Actually, the Communications Act (the law that established the FCC and defines its authority) prohibits the FCC from censoring broadcast material and interfering with freedom of speech in broadcasting.

The urban legend has its roots in 1974, when two broadcasters petitioned the FCC to prohibit religious organizations from broadcasting on channels reserved for non-commercial educational use. Nothing more, nothing less. This petition, RM-2493, was denied on First Amendment grounds in August 1975.

Petition 2493 is dead. It's been dead for 25 years. Moreover, it never had anything to do with censoring religious programming. And Madalyn Murray O'Hair, "the most hated woman in America" according to some, had absolutely nothing to do with it.

It's a hoax.

The FCC has received 30 millions pieces of mail about RM-2493 since this urban legend started propagating in the wild. It's obviously still spreading. Indeed, a new version appeared in late 1999 claiming that programs like "Touched by an Angel" would be banned because of the use of the word 'God'. This is the version that the Letter to the Editor in the Southeast Missouri describes. It's still a hoax.

The next time someone complains that "religion is dead in this country", just point them to this urban legend. If 30 million people can voice their outrage at a FCC petition that never existed, then religion can't be dead. Of course, this could also mean that there's a large number of gullible people who believe everything they hear, but that's another story.

So, do not write your congressman about Petition 2493. Do not pass this urban legend on. And more importantly, if you receive another call to action such as this, verify that it's not just another urban legend before you do anything about it.