Senator Stevens Speech at National Religous Broadcasters Dinner

September 21, 2006

 My great friend Mr. Don Nelson literally drove down here every year, and he would come spend some time with us.  But he really was a grand man.  As I was preparing these remarks, I was reminded of a story that I heard once about a little boy named John who was coming down the steps on Sunday morning with a baseball glove in one hand and a ball in the other, and his mother grabbed him right as he was going out the screen door and said, “John, where do you think you’re going?  You’ve got to go to Sunday school.  I want you to go up and change your clothes, and when you come back, I want you to tell me exactly what you’ve learned in Sunday school.”  Being a good boy, he did that, and a little over an hour later, his mother caught him at the screen door again and grabbed him again and said, “Now I told you that you’re going to have to tell me what you learned in Sunday school.  Did you really go?”  He said, “Yeah, I went Mom.  I did, and they told us a story about these good guys that were caught out in the desert, and they were put in a corral.  And they elected a leader, and that leader was pretty smart.  He figured out how to get a bunch of jeeps, and they got away.  And they were speeding across the desert, and they came to this river.  And he realized that they couldn’t get those jeeps across that river, so he called on the Corps of Engineers, and they built a bridge, and as they were going across the bridge, the bad guys were catching up.  So, he got on his cell phone again, and he called the Strategic Air Command.  And they came and blew the bridge away behind them, and they went on to a place called the ‘Promised Land’.”  And his mother said, “You couldn’t have learned that in Sunday school.  That’s not the way it happened.”  He said, “Mom I’ve got one thing to tell you.  If you don’t believe it the way I just told it to you.  You’ll never believe it the way they told it to me.” 
Now I’ve got to tell you.  When you think about it, John was sort of right.  When you deal with the problems of society, we need to recognize a fundamental truth in this country, and that is that this country is one in which the important lessons in life are learned in the family.  And the framers of our Constitution understood that.  We firmly believe that our democracy and freedom are taught to us by our nation’s parents.  The family is where we learn right from wrong and where our values really take root, and it’s where we get our basic religious values also.  The importance of family was ingrained by the framers of our Constitution, and you’ve just heard it.  I’ll read it again.  The first amendment to our Constitution says, “Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” 
Now that amendment enabled our country to pursue family-based values and to approach our beliefs with those values.  I believe one of the chief duties of government is to ensure the family is protected, and those of us elected to serve must seek to find ways to assure that the faith that families create is not destroyed or that the people who are trying to destroy those faiths do not destroy the ability of the parents to teach their children what they want them to learn. 
My colleagues in the Commerce Committee and I have tried to fulfill this duty in connection with our work, particularly in the communications field.  When Senator Inouye and I first became co-chairmen and we are co-chairmen because we’ve worked together so long.  We are of the same generation, and we believe we have similar values.  We are, I think, the only co-chairmen in the Senate.  But several groups approached us, and they were concerned about decency in media content.  It became apparent to us that any attempt to deal with this issue would require that we listen to family and faith-based institutions, to the broadcast industry, to cable and satellite providers, and to the leadership and advice of industry leaders and children’s groups, anyone that was interested in the subject. 
So in November of 2005, we began a process of bringing each of these groups together.  We convened an open forum on decency and held hearings on the subject.  In all more than 30 groups and individuals shared their concerns and insights with us and members of the Committee who joined us.  That dialogue enabled us to make significant process I feel.  Several cable providers have now established family tiers.  One of the views I shared with the cable and satellite industries was that religious programs like the Trinity Broadcasting Network should be part of the effort, and I’m pleased many companies chose to include religious programs in their family tiers. 
We believe parents now have greater access to a variety of programs, and they have greater control over the programs that enter their homes and enter into the areas where their children watch television and listen to the radios.  By using blocking technologies, in terms of television, they can filter out content which conflicts with the belief they seek to pass on to their children.  While these blocking mechanisms are widely available, we’ve learned that many parents did not know how to use them.  Surveys showed that only three percent of Americans knew how to use the V-chip, which every American pays for as they buy a new television.  We have really undertaken an educational program to try and overcome this challenge.  The media industries have joined forces to assist parents in this regard.  They’ve launched a 300 million dollar advertising campaign, which teaches parents how to use blocking technologies and to be able to monitor the television programs their children view. 
Jack Valenti, who participated in this, recently kicked off the campaign by showing the first two public service announcements to our Committee.  After viewing the messages, I believe and Dan (Inouye) believes that we will make real progress in making parents aware of the control they have over what their children watch already, and you can find that information on the net at  It is a separate spot on the net that has been created by the industry to keep that information available at all times for parents.  They can protect their children with regard to programming.  Our feeling is that government should not be in the business of choosing which programs are appropriate for children.  We are in the business of protecting our nation’s families and letting them make the decisions about what they feel their children should watch.  By enabling the public to use the blocking mechanisms, we have ensured that parents, those in the best position to make the viewing decisions, are able to block programs they do not want in their home.  It’s going to take time for these initiatives to take hold in a marketplace.  The mechanisms will be there. 
The question is, will they be used?  In the meantime, our Committee is working on other issues that are vital to your industry.  Our communications bill reinstates the FCC’s broadcast flag rules.  Those rules will ensure that your content is not stolen and sent over the internet without your permission or altered in any way by people you do not give permission to.  You will still have the option to widely distribute your programs, but the choice will be up to you.  It will not be made for you, and it will not be made by government.  Our bill also ensures there will be a place for those in your organization in emerging communications mediums like the internet.  In large part, our bill preserves how the internet works today.  With the protections that exist today, your industry, religious broadcasting, has flourished, and we believe the internet will continue to offer your members new opportunities to expand the ways that you deliver your messages.  Our legislation also includes an Internet Consumer Bill of Rights, which prohibits network operators from blocking access to religious sites or material.  There is a provision which specifically applies the First Amendment to network operators.  Under this provision, telephone companies and cable systems cannot block religious programs, because they do not agree with the views expressed. 
The prospects for our bill are improving.  Our Senate leadership has stated we must have 60 votes in order to bring the bill before the floor for debate.  I talked to our leader today about a way to try to determine whether we can limit debate, which is a cloture-type procedure, and we want to try and see if we can have that be initiated next week so that when we come back after the election, we will take up our bill.  Now some of our members have tried to hold up our bill over one issue as you know, which is net neutrality.  A new poll, which was just released the day before yesterday, has given us hope that we’ll be able to move forward, because the Glover Park Group and Public Opinion Strategies found that in areas of our country only five percent of Americans have even heard of net neutrality.  As a matter of fact, it showed roughly 90 percent of the people believe in our bill, and it is our hope that members of the Senate will not oppose the bill over an issue that most Americans have never heard of, and certainly a majority of Americans are not worried about.  We continue to seek support from you to let us help you preserve our nation’s families and their options, and we’re working to give parents more options and better tools. 
Parents now have a wider variety of programming to choose from and greater control over whether those programs enter their homes and those on our Committee will continue to pursue the types of initiatives and look forward to working with you in our efforts and any other suggestions you might have.  Now one of my problems is that things are changing a little bit in the Senate, and I’m reminded of a Skippy cartoon that I used to keep under that glass on my desk.  Many of you may not remember Skippy.  Some of us do.  He had three boxes to the cartoon structure, and the first one said, “Skippy was honest.  He said his prayers, and he said, ‘God make me a good boy’.”  And the second one, he had a vision of this bully that had one of those typical clubs that had nails sticking out of it.  So in the last one he says, “But don’t make me too good, because you know what a tough neighborhood this is.” 

Now this is a tough neighborhood that I live in, so we need all the help we can get to get this bill passed.  I want to thank your groups.  Most of your groups have supported our bill, and we welcome that support.  And I do thank you for the honor to be with you tonight and to receive this wonderful award.  Thank you very much.