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Catholic Radio blasts tribal preferences for radio licenses

Native American Reservations

source: wikimedia commons

The Catholic Radio Association has a serious problem with the Federal Communications Commission helping Native American tribes get more radio stations. That’s putting it mildly. As we’ve reported, in Febuary the FCC ruled that Federally recognized Native American Tribes and Alaska Native Villages who apply for AM or FM radio stations will get ‘Tribal Priority’ (here’s the decision). Tribal Priority means precedence for their applications or for companies controlled by tribes that want to set up stations intended to serve tribal land areas.

Here’s some of CRA’s response:

“The CRA opposes a regulatory regime wherein descendants of the indigenous tribes living in pre-colonial America (for convenience, we reference such persons hereinafter as ‘American Indians’) are afforded a preference over descendants of ethnic, racial, or national identities less fashionable among elites.”


“CRA members – and indeed most Americans – believe that we are a people ‘of all nations.’ We therefore greet with great trepidation any regulatory scheme that proceeds from the flawed premise that some groups — defined on racial or ethnic grounds – will prove more responsive to the distinct concerns of members of the same race or ethnicity. The ongoing rebuttal of truth claims premised on common racial or ethic identity has been an important component of American history, as has been the competition of political advocates and faith communities in the marketplace of ideas. We fear the new tribal preference ignores the lessons learned from both of these threads in the American legacy.”

The filing makes a number of technical objections to the FCC’s Order. Specifically, it argues that giving this preference to tribes that do not govern reservations is unconstitutional. “In addition, a tribal preference for American Indians will hold up the concerns of traditional American Indian religions over those of other religious messages, i.e., those of Catholic broadcasters,” CRA insists, a policy that the group thinks runs afoul of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

The attempt here to identify Native Americans as just another part of the American story should be challenged. Native Americans are the only people in this country who belong to nations that were conquered and displaced by the United States. They are not just another ethnic or religious group, like Catholics.

It’s also important to understand that the FCC’s Order only extends to Federally Recognized Tribes. The United States government defines this relationship as so:

“‘Recognition’ is a legal term meaning that the United States recognizes a government-to-government relationship with a tribe and that a tribe exists politically in a ‘domestic dependent nation status.’ A federally recognized tribe is one that was in existence, or evolved as a successor to a tribe at the time of original contact with non-Indians.

Federally recognized tribes possess certain inherent rights of self-government and entitlement to certain federal benefits, services, and protections because of the special trust relationship.”

The key term here is “government-to-government,” not government to ethnic group or religion. That’s why I think that CRA’s attempt to reduce the relationship to those latter terms fail.

By the way, where in the United States constitution does it say that we are a people ‘of all nations’? Nowhere, of course. CRA gets that not from U.S. law but from what it presumably regards as higher law, the Book of Matthew, 28: 18-20:

“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I havc commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

These are moving words. But it would be sad if our courts overturned the FCC’s worthy efforts here based on a misunderstanding of tribal identity, and on top of that based on a definition of Americanness rooted not in our Constitution, but in a religious text. Talk about a violation of the Establishment Clause!

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