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Court to weigh TV indecency in major case

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

WASHINGTON (BP)--The U.S. Supreme Court will have the opportunity in its next term to correct lower-court rulings "that would open the floodgates for graphic nudity and some of the harshest profanity in the English language" to be shown on television, a pro-family organization says.


The high court announced June 27 it would review an opinion from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that overturned federal indecency rulings against prime-time telecasts that included nudity and profanity. The case involves penalties by the federal agency against Fox stations for telecasts of the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards programs in which several obsene words were used and against ABC stations for showing partial female nudity during an episode of "NYPD Blue."

The justices will hear oral arguments in the case, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) v. Fox, at an unannounced date in the next term, which begins in October.

Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, called on the Supreme Court "to affirm and clarify the law yet again and halt the TV networks' crusade for the 'right' to air" obscene language "and explicit nudity in front of children."

"The case for commonsense decency protections in exchange for free use of the publicly-owned broadcast airwaves is a no brainer," Winter said in a written statement. "The networks make our case for us every time they tell advertisers the medium remains uniquely pervasive and highly accessible to children."

The case has bounced up and down the federal court system for years. This time, the high court will focus on whether a FCC ban on the use of "fleeting expletives" abridges either the First or Fifth amendments.

The court battle began after the FCC announced a new policy in ruling against Fox for the use of "fleeting expletives." Previously, an indecent word had to be used repeatedly for the FCC to find a broadcaster in violation. If it allowed the singular use of expletives, widespread usage of those words on TV would follow, the FCC said in defending its revised policy.


The Second Circuit ruled the policy change was "arbitrary and capricious" in a 2007 opinion, but the Supreme Court reversed the decision in 2009 and sent the case back to the appeals court. The high court did not rule on the FCC policy's constitutional worthiness but said the FCC had the authority to prohibit certain indecent language, even in a one-time instance.

In 2010, the Second Circuit again ruled against the FCC, saying its indecency policy did not provide appropriate guidance to broadcasters on what is "patently offensive" material. The court also said the FCC did not apply its policy equally to all broadcast programming.

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor did not participate in considering whether the Supreme Court would grant a review. She served on the Second Circuit during part of the time the case was being considered by that court.

Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.

Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press

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