When an invitation is “indoctrination” | WORLD
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When an invitation is “indoctrination”

Hulu turns down a church ad that merely invited viewers to come


Hulu app icon Associated Press/Photo by Dan Goodman

When an invitation is “indoctrination”
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Big Tech’s vulnerability to the charge of censorship is a product of its own making. Social media and Big Tech companies trade in ambiguities to promote their own ideology at the expense of others, or so it seems.

Hulu is the latest example. The Disney-owned company recently rejected an advertisement from a local church in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Hulen Street Church serves its local community with a variety of religious offerings. And, while most people still work traditional Monday through Friday schedules, for a significant and growing number of people in their local area, Sunday is just another workday. For people who work as first responders, in the hospitality industry, or in the medical field, Hulen Street Church presents a creative alternative: a new Thursday night worship service.

To get the word out about its new service, the church created a 22-second video ad. In the ad, Pastor Wes Hamilton extends a short invitation: “Does your work schedule or busy family calendar not allow you to attend church on a Sunday morning? If so, I want to invite you to Thursday nights at Hulen Street Church beginning on Feb. 1. We created Thursday nights at Hulen Street because we know that even though Sunday may not be an option for you, that doesn’t mean your faith isn’t important to you.” The ad concludes with this text: “For more information, hulenstreet.com.”

Pastor Hamilton registered as an advertiser with Hulu and submitted the ad. Hulu rejected the ad without explanation. He submitted it a second time. Hulu again rejected it, but after he pressed for a reason, Hulu customer service explained the company rejected the ad for “Religious Indoctrination due to asking viewer[s] to attend Thursday services.”

No reasonable person would view a 22-second ad announcing the who, what, when, and where of a church service to seriously meet the definition of “indoctrination,” religious or otherwise. Logic aside, Hulu faces another problem: Nowhere in its announced advertising policy will potential advertisers find a rule against ads engaged in “religious indoctrination.” In fact, they won’t even find those words in Hulu’s ad policy.

It should not take the sending of a demand letter to Hulu for a church’s ad to run on its platform. Thankfully, Hulu has reversed course this time.

Still, this experience illustrates the problem facing Big Tech and frustrating Main Street USA. Without a clear standard, potential advertisers can easily claim censorship when, as with Hulu, new policies are suddenly announced. It gives room for unfettered discretion by corporate officials often resulting in absurd results—like labeling an ad for a church service as “religious indoctrination.”

What is inexcusable is to take advantage of a free society, even billing one’s company as a defender of free speech and expression, while suppressing speech it disfavors.

Even when there are clear standards, those standards are too often unfairly applied. Hulu is again illustrative. It labels a 22-second ad for church services as “religious Indoctrination,” but allows advertisements for alcohol, gambling, and dating apps. If a church ad is religious indoctrination, is DraftKings ad secular indoctrination? If we are to be “indoctrinated” by seeing ads for Hinge and Farmers Only, let us be all the more discerning viewers!

As a private company, Hulu is entitled to pick and choose which ads it prefers appear on its platform, insofar as company officials think it a wise business decision. Indeed, Hulu should be free to reject religious ads entirely, just as it should be free to reject ads that do not align with its values, whatever those are.

At least then potential advertisers will know that their religious ads are unwelcome. Americans can understand clear lines and preferred values. And, while it would be a dumb business decision to exclude religious advertising, people like Mark Wahlberg would know not to try to place ads for his new Hallow app on Hulu, nor cry “censorship” if Hulu rejects it.

What is inexcusable is to take advantage of a free society, even billing one’s company as a defender of free speech and expression, while suppressing speech it disfavors.

Whether the efforts of states like Florida and Texas to curb the suppression of religious speech by Big Tech survive review by the U.S. Supreme Court remains to be seen. Future cases may make clear whether the Constitution allows private entities to collude with the government to suppress speech or whether government actors can exclude religion from public transit.

For now, Big Tech should realize that the best way out of the problem it has created is clarity and fairness in keeping with the American ideal of preferring more speech rather than less.


Jeremy Dys

Jeremy Dys is senior counsel to First Liberty Institute, a nationwide religious liberty legal organization dedicated to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

@jeremydys


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