Christian Groups Blocked By Filtering Software

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BP) -- Because of the alleged "intolerance" of their biblical stance that homosexuality is sin, the Internet sites of the American Family Association and various other Christian and pro-family organizations have been blocked from public access by Cyber Patrol, which provides filtering software to 85 percent of America's on-line providers, including America Online, CompuServe, Prodigy, AT&T, Bell AtlanticNet and Scholastic Net.

The powerful decision as to which Internet sites on the World Wide Web to filter out rests with a 12-member committee charged with overseeing Cyber Patrol.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and unnamed "women's rights groups," a "teacher's union," a "minister" and a "superintendent of schools," along with Morality in Media and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), are represented among the committee members who scan the Internet in search of sites they feel are inappropriate for children.

Only Morality in Media has protested Cyber Patrol's blocking of AFA and other Christian and family groups on the Internet.

In addition to the Internet site of the American Family Association, the Internet sites of several Charlotte, N.C., organizations are being blocked: The Charlotte Christian News, which earlier this year broke the story on the Cyber Patrol blocking; WRCM, a Christian radio station; INSP, the Inspiration cable television network; and "Quiet Thunder," a cartoon and children's ministry.

"They have the power to completely censor any (Internet) web site they want to censor," said WRCM general manager Ken Mayfield. "We were unaware they were doing this to us until some listeners called and said they could no longer access our web site. It's very chilling."

The action was taken after GLAAD complained that certain Christian and pro-family groups were promoting "intolerance." Cyber Patrol lists a number of category definitions it uses to restrict sites, known as "CyberNOTs." Among those categories, in addition to intolerance, are violence/profanity, partial nudity, full nudity, sexual acts, gross depictions, satanic or cult, drugs/drug culture, militant/extremist, sex education, gambling, alcohol and tobacco.

The Cyber Patrol definition of intolerance reads, "Pictures or text advocating prejudice or discrimination against any race, color, national origin, religion, disability or handicap, gender or sexual orientation. Any picture or text that elevates one group over another. Also includes intolerant jokes or slurs."

The action stunned the AFA, relegating it to a category generally reserved for Skinheads, Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

AFA was equally shocked to learn that one of its primary opponents, GLAAD, sits on the oversight committee. Additionally, GLAAD opposes Internet filtering, even while continuing to participate in Cyber Patrol filtering decisions.

"Cyber Patrol is blocking [our site] because we oppose the political and cultural agenda of the homosexual rights movement," said AFA executive assistant Buddy Smith.

"The AFA has never condoned violence, persecution or harassment; nor do we advocate that homosexuals be denied the same rights of all citizens. However, we do oppose and expose efforts to equate race, ethnic origin and religion with the practice of same-sex sexual behavior for purposes of special civil rights laws."

AFA, a strong supporter of filtering software to protect children on the Internet, appealed the Cyber Patrol ruling in June, but the appeal was rejected.

"At the CyberNOT Oversight Committee meeting held on June 9, 1998, the Committee voted to uphold the decision to include the Web site www.afa.net (AFA) on the CyberNOT list under the category of intolerance," stated a terse press release issued June 10 by The Learning Company, which manufactures a variety of software products including Cyber Patrol.

"In light of suggestions made by the AFA and committee members, the Internet Research team will be reviewing additional Web sites on both sides of the issue to ensure that Cyber Patrol is categorizing similar expressions of intolerance in the same way," the release continued from the Framingham, Mass.,-based company.

"They (the AFA) probably don't see themselves as intolerant, and they may not be intolerant people," Cyber Patrol spokeswoman Susan Getgood told The Orange County (Calif.) Register. "But when we go through their Web site, there is a great deal of material that refers to a group of people in what we considered an intolerant manner."

According to the AFA, the offending sentences include: "We want to outlaw public homosexuality. Indifference or neutrality toward the homosexual rights movement will result in society's destruction by allowing civil order to be redefined ... ."

Smith said he asked a Cyber Patrol committee member earlier this month if there is any way AFA can oppose the homosexual rights movement and not be blocked out by Cyber Patrol. "That's a good question, but I can't answer that," was the reply Smith said he received.

When asked by The Charlotte Christian News if the intolerance label was the cause for the restrictions placed on all the Christian and pro-family Internet sites in question, Microsystems spokesperson Debbie Galdin said, "Yeah, probably."

One other group, promoting paganism, successfully appealed the oversight committee's decision to block its site recently.

The pagan group told the oversight committee they were offended by having their Internet sites "lumped into a category with satanic or cult groups." Promotional material showing that paganism is a constitutionally protected religion in the United States -- which has no Satan or devil-like creature in its doctrinal statements -- were provided to the committee.

"It is clear that pagan material does not meet the critieria and thus would not be included (blocked any longer)," the committee said in a statement released on the Cyber Patrol Internet site.

GLAAD, in its opposition to Internet filtering, issued a news release July 22 voicing sharp criticism of the U.S. Senate for passing the Internet School Filtering Act.

The proposed new law would require schools and libraries to be certified by the Federal Communications Commission as having selected some type of filtering software to protect children from pornography and "chat room" pedophiles. Schools and libraries could not receive federal funding for Internet connections without the FCC certification.

Cyber Patrol, meanwhile, is offering a 25 percent discount to any school which takes part in a government program that provides funds to schools desiring Internet connections.

Jennifer Einhorn, GLAAD's director of communications, in a news release critical of the Senate vote on school Internet filtering, said, "In a society in which the Senate Majority Leader (Trent Lott, R.-Miss.) blanketly equates millions of his fellow lesbian and gay constituents with criminals and alcoholics, it is not surprising that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth experience that isolation to an even greater degree than their peers. It is crucial that these youth not be denied access to the Internet."

The Cyber Patrol oversight committee's apparent reluctance to acknowledge GLAAD's contradictory position of opposing Internet filtering while blocking sites like AFA's has not gone unchallenged within the committee.

Bob Peters, president of Morality in Media, in a letter to the committee, cited the ruthlessness with which homosexuals intend to advance their cause by quoting from a homosexual magazine article which expressed their strategy for convincing "straight" people that the homosexual lifestyle should be accepted.

"At a later stage of the media campaign for gay rights," Peters said, "it will be time to get tough with remaining opponents. To be blunt, they must be vilified. The public should be shown images of ranting homophobes whose secondary traits and beliefs disgust middle America. These images might include: the Ku Klux Klan demanding that gays be burned alive or castrated; bigoted Southern ministers drooling with hysterical hatred to a degree that looks both comical and deranged; menacing punks, thugs ... a tour of a Nazi concentration camp."

Peters also noted that GLAAD has likened Christian and pro-family groups to "Radical Right, White Supremacist, and Neo-Nazi" organizations.

"In my view, AFA is an organization which is in the mainstream of legitimate discussion and debate on the subject of 'gay rights,'" Peters wrote. "AFA does not promote, encourage or condone violence, harassment or persecution of homosexuals; nor does it advocate that homosexuals be denied the same rights that all other citizens have. AFA does oppose efforts to equate race, ethnic origin and religion with the practice of same-sex sexual behaviors for purposes of special civil rights laws."

As recently as 1995, Cyber Patrol blocked some homosexual Internet sites like GLAAD's -- until GLAAD complained. Shortly thereafter, GLAAD was given a seat on the Cyber Patrol oversight committee. "We made a commitment to correct the situation and handled the entire matter within the time frame that was established together with GLAAD," Getgood said in a news release.

Orthodox Christianity has long been a target of GLAAD criticism. In the past year, GLAAD has intensified its rhetoric against the Southern Baptist Convention's boycott of The Disney Company over concerns about a moral decline in the conglomerate's values.

When minister and professional football star Reggie White told the Wisconsin legislature March 26 that America is "going away from God" by "allowing homosexuality to run rampant," GLAAD immediately sent out a call for its Internet site newsletter subscribers (it claims 70,000) to voice their opinion concerning White's remarks to White's team, the Green Bay Packers, and the National Football League. White was denounced harshly in public and reportedly lost his chance to work as a sportscaster for CBS once he finishes his football career.

"As soon as someone like Reggie White speaks out, you're labeled a bigot, or that you're intolerant," said AFA's Smith. "It's OK for them to oppose a biblical viewpoint, but we can't promote one."

GLAAD unleashed a barrage of criticism against Sen. Lott, a Southern Baptist layman, after he affirmed on Armstrong Williams' syndicated talk radio show that "homosexuality is a sin, and that gay people should be assisted in dealing with it just like alcohol ... sex addiction ... or kleptomaniacs. There are all kinds of problems, addictions, difficulties, experiences of things that are wrong, but you should try to work with that person to learn to control that problem."

And GLAAD issued strong criticism when Christian and pro-family groups placed advertisements in The New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today in July offering help to homosexuals who want to leave their current lifestyle.

But in his letter to the Cyber Patrol committee, Morality in Media's Peters highlighted yet another of GLAAD's contradictory positions: "There is now an effort under way to prevent mental health professionals from providing therapy to assist individuals who want to break free from the gay lifestyle. In other words, it is OK for mental health professionals to 'confirm' persons in the 'gay lifestyle' but not to help them escape."

Internet filtering software designed to protect children "surfing" on the Internet is not new. Prodigy was the first major on-line service to offer parental access controls, beginning in the late 1980s. In recent years The Learning Company has soared to a ranking of 223 on the Inc. 500 list of the fastest-growing privately held companies in the country. The Learning Company's Cyber Patrol, which claims to block out more than 500,000 Internet sites, is the nation's most used Internet filtering software.

The Learning Company reached a milestone in 1996 when it announced a deal to provide Internet filtering software technology to America Online. With 12 million customers, AOL is the nation's most popular Internet provider. Four telephone calls by Baptist Press to AOL were made in an attempt to discuss AOL's relationship with The Learning Company and Cyber Patrol. None of the calls were returned.

Under the terms of the agreement between AOL and The Learning Company, according to a Sept. 9, 1996, news release, The Learning Company is charged with dividing the AOL parental control sites into "Kids Yes," geared to children 6 to 12 years of age, and "Teens Yes," for adolescents 12 to 16 years old. Parents can access AOL's parental controls at keyword: Parental Controls.

The Cyber Patrol software program has been rated tops in the industry, but the oversight committee's controversial decisions has caused some Christian and pro-family organizations to reconsider which parental control software is best.

"It's not trustworthy," said Dwayne Hastings, director of communications for the Southern Baptist Ethics Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). "I would recommend any family to remove the software totally.

"Software that alleges to screen out offensive content are notoriously ineffective," Hastings continued, noting most such filters as no more effective than "a screen door in a hurricane."

Instead of client-side filtering software, Hastings suggests concerned Christians check into service providers that screen web sites at the server level before they can be accessed. The service utilizes "state-of-the-art server-side" database filters to block Internet sites that contain dangerous and offensive material from ever reaching the home computer. (See contact information in sidebar)

Meanwhile, Smith said some unexpected opportunities have come AFA's way: Traffic at the AFA Web site has nevertheless doubled since the Cyber Patrol blockage. The organization averaged 13,000 contacts a month before the ban. Now it gets more than 26,000 a month. Smith acknowledged that some of it is hate mail from homosexuals, but three homosexual men -- asking for help in getting out of their lifestyle -- have been among those recently contacting the site.

"We believe that God is changing many homosexuals," Smith said. "The Lord's taken what's meant for evil and made it something good."

(BP - Baptist Press)

(Post date: August 5, 1998)

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