(RNS) Todd Starnes did not think he had violated Facebook’s community standards when he posted about “wearing an NRA ball cap, eating a Chick-fil-A sandwich, reading a Paula Deen cookbook and sipping a 20-ounce sweet tea” and generally being politically incorrect.

Workers at Facebook thought otherwise, blocking the host of “Fox News & Commentary” for 12 hours before issuing an apology.

Starnes and other conservatives say the incident is part of increasing viewpoint discrimination from organizations such as Facebook and Google. They  want these new media companies to protect their freedom of speech.

Since 2011, the National Religious Broadcasters’ John Milton Project for Free Speech has documented a rise in “viewpoint censorship,” targeting conservative Christian values.

Craig Parshall, senior vice president of the National Religious Broadcasters, describes how conservative Christian viewpoints have been censored by iTunes and other companies at a Thursday (Oct. 3) panel discussion including Eric Teetsel (left), executive director of the Manhattan Declaration. RNS photo by Katherine Burgess

Craig Parshall, senior vice president of the National Religious Broadcasters, describes how conservative Christian viewpoints have been censored by iTunes and other companies at a Thursday (Oct. 3) panel discussion including Eric Teetsel (left), executive director of the Manhattan Declaration. RNS photo by Katherine Burgess

“The primary concern of the John Milton project is … the power of those private companies to be arbiters of truth and opinions and holding the power to either allow or to suppress viewpoints and ideas that they simply do not agree with,” said Craig Parshall, senior vice president of the NRB, at an NRB panel discussion in early October.

Adam Thierer, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, said the First Amendment cannot prevent private companies from limiting viewpoints, but individuals can still pressure companies to respect freedom of speech.

Panelists also mentioned how former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s page supporting Chick-fil-A because of the founder’s opposition to same-sex marriage was temporarily removed from Facebook. In contrast, anti-Christian pages were not removed, Parshall said.

Parshall said that although companies have a legal right to block opinions they disagree with, companies that “make their billions” by trading in viewpoints must “ascribe to a higher standard.”

Eric Teetsel, executive director of the Manhattan Declaration, spoke about how an iTunes app based on his group’s document opposing same-sex marriage was dropped from the app store, one of the earliest examples of viewpoint discrimination.

“When America was sort of a de facto nominal Christian country, we didn’t always respect the rights of others,” Teetsel said. “And now we’re in the position where we have to ask for mercy from those who we didn’t always treat so mercifully. And I’m not sure that we should expect it all the time.”

Ross Murray, director of news at GLAAD, a leading gay rights organization that advocated for the removal of the app, said the app crossed the line from merely advocating a viewpoint to attacking individuals.

“Apple is an environment that has standards for what they’re going to support and put out on the iTunes store,” Murray said. “Apps that are designed to promote discrimination are things that are not going to be included in the iTunes store.”

Responding to criticism, a Facebook representative said: “When something is reported, we analyze the complete nature of the speech itself, as well as its perceived intent as indicated by any additional context. We will remove content when it is defined as harmful in our policies. However, we allow people to use language and images, even when extremely offensive or inaccurate, to make jokes or express political beliefs that fall short of harm.”

4 Comments

  1. Daniel Berry, NYC

    I’m a Christian – a faithful, tithing Anglican Christian. I have been at the altar every Sunday and Holy Day for as long as I can remember. And I’m sick to death of the whining of conservative Christians.

  2. Well said D Berry —

    “And I’m sick to death of the whining of conservative Christians.”

    Conservative religiosity itself seems to naturally promote whiners, sitters in the seat of the scornful, finger pointers, accusers, judgers and so on.

    There’s a verse that goes like this — The faith you have, keep it to yourself before God. Blessed is the one who does not judge himself by what he approves.

    Now…..if we are blessed because we don’t judge ourselves because of the things “we” approve of…….why should anyone judge others because of the things “they” approve of ?

    • Billysees, are you aware that the Bible says that if we do not acknowledge Christ before men, then He (Christ) will not acknowledge us before his Father (God) in heaven. There is no other name under heaven, given among men, (than that of Jesus Christ) whereby we must be saved. WE MUST NOT KEEP OUR FAITH TO OURSELVES BUT PROCLAIM TO OTHERS HOW MUCH GOD LOVES THEM, AND THAT CHRIST DIED FOR THEM. It seems that everyone can express their opinions these days, EXCEPT FOR CHRISTIANS. Without Christ, people will spend ETERNITY in hell. I DO NOT WANT THAT TO HAPPEN TO ANYONE. We do not go to heaven for being good, but for having faith that God provided His Son as our substitute to pay for our sins. WHEN YOU REALIZE THAT THIS WORLD CANNOT GIVE YOU INNER PEACE AND SECURITY, TURN TO GOD AND YOU WILL FIND IT. WE MUST PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL, BUT WE MUST DO IT WITH LOVE AND WITH THE LEADING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. ONLY GOD CAN DRAW YOU TO HIM, NOT OTHER PEOPLE.

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