Rumors that just won’t die

Zombies_Ahead_610x479The rumors still sound ominous.

Atheists, inspired by the now-deceased Madalyn Murray O’Hair, are pushing the Federal Communications Commission to ban all religious broadcasting. If this request – petition RM-2493 – succeeds, then we can say good-bye to church services on the radio, televangelists and all religious programming.

If you want an example of what might happen, consider the fate of that popular CBS-TV series, “Touched by an Angel.” It was taken off the air because it mentioned God in every episode.

Christians can stop the atheists, however, by adding their names to a petition that would force the FCC to keep its big government paws off their broadcasts. The goal is to collect one million names. James Dobson of Focus on the Family endorses this effort to stop RM-2493.

But wait, there’s more!

Redesigned dollar coins and Lincoln pennies omit the words “In God We Trust”!

Jesus will be portrayed as a homosexual in an upcoming film!

Steak ‘N’ Shake restaurants won’t allow its customers to pray in public!

And of course, Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim!

One problem: Not one of these rumors is true. Not one.

According to, one of several Web sites devoted to researching and unraveling rumors and so-called urban legends, more than 40 religion-based rumors are currently blowing around cyberspace. Only a handful of them, however, are emphatically true. The vast majority are bogus in whole or part.

That FCC rumor about removing religious broadcasting? Various versions have circulated for more than 30 years, by chain letter before the days of Internet. It started after two men filed a petition, the infamous RM-2493, asking the FCC to investigate the operating practices of stations licensed to religious organizations and not to grant new licenses for new noncommercial educational broadcast stations until the investigation was complete.

The FCC denied their petition in 1975. O’Hair had nothing to do with it, but her name got attached because she was then America’s most famous atheist.

But the story just won’t die. The FCC still gets mail and phone calls.

 “Such rumors are false,” the FCC Web site bluntly states. “The FCC has responded to numerous inquiries about these rumors and advised the public of their falsehood. There is no federal law that gives the FCC the authority to prohibit radio and television stations from broadcasting religious programs.”

For their part, Dobson and Focus on the Family have never been involved in any controversy over RM-2493, except for efforts to distance themselves from it.

The “Touched by an Angel” Web site also set the record straight in 2001, just after it was renewed for a seventh season: “A chain email has been floating around the internet and our message board stating that the FCC is forcing CBS to take ‘Touched By An Angel’ off the air because we mention the word ‘God. … This is a new variation of an old hoax. If you are a recipient of this email, please ignore it.”

The series ran a total of nine seasons, a long and successful lifespan for any program, and the scripts mentioned God from the first episode. The show ended for the same reason most do: it no longer appealed to the audience advertisers wanted.

Ironically, the same Internet that makes it so easy to spread rumors makes the truth more accessible than ever. Viewers can check out sources directly, such as the FCC, or locate information on sites such as Snopes and Urban Legends.

That being the case, then why do such stories persist, some for decades? Why don’t people check for themselves?

Maybe they don’t know how. Maybe the stories confirm what we already believe or what we want to be true. Maybe it’s a reaction of fear and insecurity, prompts for people who feel threatened by the world around them.


For now, let’s just take the pledge to check the facts and find the truth before we risk passing along a lie.

Johnson City (Tenn.) Press, 2 May 2009. (This column is an updated version of one that was published on April 29, 2006.)

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