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America's most notorious atheist has gained a semblance of immortality if not eternal life with the local reincarnation of a media hoax attributed to her more than 14 years after her murder.
Once again, people are being asked to sign a petition objecting to a request -- falsely attributed to Madalyn Murray O'Hair in 1975 -- before the Federal Communication Commission to ban religious programming.
O'Hair and the FCC denied, and still deny, any such plan existed.
Even so, a counter-petition campaign inundated the FCC with more mail about this than anything in the agency's history.
In 1995, O'Hair went missing, with rumors ranging from her absconding with her organization's money to foul play.
In 2001, the man who murdered and dismembered O'Hair, her younger son and her granddaughter led authorities to their shallow grave on a Texas ranch.
Despite their deaths, the urban legend lives on.
- Source: Alleged atheist hoax reincarnates, Tom Morton, Star-Tribune, Feb. 1, 2010
The FCC's official statement on the issue says:
Madalyn Murray O'Hair
A rumor has been circulating since 1975 that Madalyn Murray O'Hair, a widely known, self-proclaimed atheist, proposed that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) consider limiting or banning religious programming. This rumor is not true. It also has been circulated repeatedly that Ms. O'Hair was granted an FCC hearing to discuss that proposal. This too is untrue.
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 FCC cannot direct any broadcaster to present, or refrain from presenting, announcements or programs on religion, and the FCC cannot act as an arbitrator on the insights or accuracy of such material. Broadcasters, not the FCC, nor any other governmental agency, have the responsibility for selecting the programming that is aired by their stations.
A petition filed in December 1974 by Jeremy D. Lansman and Lorenzo W. Milam which was routinely assigned the number RM-2493 added further confusion regarding the issue of religious programming. They had asked, among other things, that the FCC inquire into operating practices of stations licensed to religious organizations.
The petitioners had also asked that no new licenses be granted for any new noncommercial educational broadcasting station, until the requested inquiry had been completed. The "Lansman-Milam petition" was DENIED by the FCC on August 1, 1975. The Commission explained then that it is required by the First Amendment "to observe a stance of neutrality toward religion, acting neither to promote nor to inhibit religion." It also explained that it must treat religious and secular organizations alike in determining their eligibility for broadcasting channels.
Periodically since 1975, the FCC has received mail indicating that, in many parts of the country, there were rumors claiming the petitions of RM-2493 had called for an end to religious programs on radio and television. Such rumors are false.
Additional mail and telephone calls came in from people who thought that Ms. O'Hair was a sponsor of RM-2493. This rumor is also false.
Since 1975 to the present time, the FCC has received and responded to millions of inquiries about these rumors. Many efforts have been made by the FCC to advise the public of their falsehood. The laws and the FCC's policies on the broadcast of religious programming have appeared in numerous publications (including newspapers, religious publications, TV Guide and Time Magazine) and have been discussed in religious group meetings.
- Source: Religious broadcasting rumor denied, FCC, undated
A shorter statement, dated Nov. 5, 2008, is also posted at the FCC web site.
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