The recent ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York may mean that television media companies can broadcast obscene and profane programming. The court denied the FCC’s ability to punish broadcast companies for airing profane language during primetime on national television.

In 2006, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) determined that the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards were indecent and profane because of the airing of the F-word and S-word during family viewing hours. The FCC made these determinations in accord with its Congressional mandate to restrict profanity and indecency on broadcast television.

However, on June 4, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York overturned decisions made by the FCC declaring that the use of the F-word and S-word on national television is obscene. In a 2-1 ruling, the court rejected the FCC’s interpretation of profanity and indecency and sent the cases back to the FCC for further explanation of its rulings.

Much of the controversy is over the FCC’s more stringent regulations on profane language in recent years, especially after Janet Jackson’s exposure during the 2004 Super Bowl. The FCC has recently tightened its stance on television obscenity, declaring that fleeting expletives, such as a single use of the F-word, are indecent. In addition, in 2006, Congress, because of public outcry against broadcast indecency, passed legislation to stiffen penalties by 10 times for broadcast indecency.

Because of the tightening of indecency standards and the increase in fines for broadcast companies that violate these standards, media companies have begun using the courts to attempt to regain control over the airwaves. Thus, this is the first of several court rulings to come on broadcast indecency and profanity.

Large broadcast companies, producers, and entertainers are supporting the decision by the Second Circuit as a victory for free speech and creative license. If this decision is not halted by Congress and/or the Supreme Court, television broadcasting might be significantly changed and families and children could be damaged by obscene language and programming.

The Second Circuit’s ruling could open the door for mainstream television and media networks to air obscene language during primetime and daytime viewing hours when children are watching television. Also, this ruling goes against the will of the public and Congress, that broadcast airwaves be kept free of obscene language and material.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) is deeply concerned about the implications of the Second Circuit ruling. We urge all those who share our concern to contact their Senators and Congressman, to express their displeasure with the Second Circuit’s ruling, to urge them to support the FCC’s rulings against profanity, indecency and obscenity on television and to support the FCC’s ruling that fleeting expletives are profane. Additionally, the ERLC encourages concerned citizens to send letters of support to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and to encourage Chairman Martin to appeal the Second Circuit’s decision about the FCC ruling to the Supreme Court.