Speaking for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver has stated that a religious coalition, which recently petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to clamp down on “hate speech” by conservative talk-show hosts, has misrepresented the U.S. bishops’ involvement in their initiative.
The USCCB Office of Communications is listed as a member of the So We Might See Coalition, a group billing itself as a national interfaith coalition against hate speech in media led by the United Church of Christ’s (UCC) Office of Communications’ Executive Director, J. Bennett Guess.
The USCCB drew fire from conservative and Catholic commentators after the So We Might See Coalition launched a petition to the FCC, signed by the USCCB, that called for an investigation into “hate speech” in media and that singled out conservative radio pundit Rush Limbaugh as a primary culprit.
The petition drew a connection between Limbaugh’s calling Mexican immigrants “a renegade, potential crime element that is unwilling to work” with the 2006 assault on two Mexicans in New York three months after the comment was broadcast. “The possible correlation between hate speech and violent crime gives us great pause,” states the letter. “Immigrant, minority, and religious populations are often targets of hate speech before they are subsequently the target of physical hate crimes.”
Because other areas of the coalition’s website and Guess’ mass email to UCC members appeared to target mainly right-leaning figures and media outlets, critics accused the group of launching a thinly-veiled partisan attack on conservative media.
The partisan nature of the petition also raised questions about the USCCB’s involvement in it.
However, the American Spectator’s Jeffrey Lord reports that, in responding to a parishioner’s request for an explanation about the scandal, Archbishop Chaput said that “the USCCB feels that its involvement has been misrepresented” by So We Might See.
The USCCB’s Communications Secretary Helen Osman told the Catholic News Agency on Monday that, although the USCCB is one of the groups in the So We Might See Coalition, the USCCB did not sign on to the current petition, which is at the center of the controversy.
Archbishop Chaput pointed out that the USCCB’s goals in joining the coalition were specifically outlined in a letter that it sent in July to the FCC. Lord reports that the USCCB’s letter did not mention any specific public figure or media forum, but simply supported “a broad public forum in which to raise and debate (hate speech and other issues) in a respectful manner.”
Chaput also observed that at the time the USCCB had “informed the sponsors of this effort that (1) there are serious constitutional concerns raised by any interference with free speech; (2) it’s not at all clear that the FCC has jurisdiction or can actually do anything about the problem; and (3) ‘hate speech’ is an ambiguous concept with some troubling implications for religious believers and their right to hold and preach doctrines that some might find offensive.”