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Christian group splits on CDA

A Christian publishing house is supporting the recent ruling against the CDA.

A leading Christian publishing house has praised the recent ruling against the Communications Decency Act, opening a rift with other conservative groups that have been unwavering in their support of the law.

Zondervan Publishing House of Grand Rapids, Michigan, has lauded last month's rejection of the CDA by a three-judge federal panel in Philadelphia, saying that "the advent of the Internet has seen a staggering growth in the potential for the freedom of speech and expression to people throughout the world." The law bans material deemed indecent or patently offensive that is available to minors online.

At the same time, Zondervan--whose stable of authors includes former Vice President Dan Quayle and conservative commentator Alan Keyes--has expressed concern about irresponsibility in exercising online rights. To promote accountability, the company is mounting what it calls the Green Ribbon Campaign.

The publishing house patterned its drive after the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Blue Ribbon Campaign, which was designed to protest the CDA, but it is espousing a different message. "We didn't like all that it [the Blue Ribbon Campaign] stood for, specifically the idea of free speech no matter what you say," said Jonathan Petersen, director of corporate affairs at the Zondervan.

The Green Ribbon Campaign encourages freedom of expression but discourages any speech used in a vulgar, obscene, or insulting way. "We exercise from a certain perspective of Christian principles, which would be to embrace the Ten Commandments and not to take God's name in vain, swear, or use profanity," Petersen said.

Zondervan realizes what is obscene to some may not be to others but believes nonetheless that "everybody who communicates has to be held accountable for their communication--and if it is obscene, vulgar, or insulting, then they need to take the consequences," Petersen said.

The Green Ribbon Campaign is an effort to encourage Netizens to take responsibility online as they would do in the real world. The use of the campaign's logo will denote sites that agree with Zondervan and have been designed to avoid any potentially offensive content.

"People need to reconsider the whole debate that is raging right now with the CDA," Petersen said. "People are quick to come down for or against it whether they are liberal or conservative and really lose sight of what the intent is. The intent is to further civility of society, to protect our children, to be courteous and to exercise differences, but in an acceptable fashion. My right to swing my arm ends when it hits your nose. My right to free speech ends as soon as it hurts someone."

That, however, is not good enough for other members of the Religious Right. Organizations such as the Family Research Council have been rankled by Zondervan's stand on the CDA and its new campaign.

"I think these people are well-intentioned, but they have been misled by all of the liberal rhetoric in the mainstream media," Cathleen Cleaver, the council's director of legal studies, told the Boston Globe.

Related stories:
After CDA ruling, Net polices itself
Government officially files CDA appeal