Illustration by Bob AulMonths after losing out on the bid for Huntington Beach-based KOCE-TV Channel 50, an evangelical network is using the courts to muscle in on the station. And this time, they say, God is on their side.
Daystar Television Network—the second-largest Christian broadcaster in the United States after the Costa Mesa-based Trinity Broadcasting Network—is demanding that the Coast Community College District (CCCD) cancel the sale of the station to the private KOCE Foundation. In a Feb. 4 letter sent to CCCD officials, Daystar maintains that it was the "highest responsible bidder" to which the district was supposed to sell Orange County's only public education station as required by California education law. The letter claims CCCD trustees have a "desire to prevent a religious organization from owning and controlling KOCE" and demands the CCCD "cease and desist from its unlawful activities."
Of course, if KOCE is discriminating against Daystar for religious reasons, it's not the only one: the network's website (www.daystar.com) proudly proclaims that the company "only considers born-again Christian believers for employment," a policy that runs aground of California's Fair Employment and Housing Act. In past interviews with the press, Daystar CEO Marcus Lamb has also referred to homosexuality as a "deception."
Nevertheless, there's a good chance Daystar's complaint will undo the original KOCE sale. As one law professor told the Los Angeles Timeson Feb. 17, "If [the CCCD] were a publicly held corporation, it would be ripe for a lawsuit in which those who control the company are playing favorites with the bidders." And now district trustees are deliberating whether to pull KOCE off the market since the foundation is struggling to find funds to fulfill their offer. Plus, Daystar's contention that it, not the KOCE Foundation, is the true "highest responsible bidder" might also be undone. Forget the lions. This time, the Christians have to battle a more feared enemy: other Christians.
Enter Dominion Video Satellite, a Florida-based Christian direct-broadcast satellite system currently involved in litigation with Daystar over broadcasting rights on satellite television. On Dec. 18, Dominion filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) alleging that Daystar was in "flagrant violation" of regulations pertaining to its noncommercial television stations.
Specifically, Dominion cited as unlawful Daystar's broadcasts on its six public education stations of nationally known pastors such as Jerry Falwell and Benny Hinn, who fund-raise for their own causes. The complaint alleges that such showings violate FCC bylaws pertaining to public education station content that state, "No promotional announcements on behalf of for-profit entities shall be broadcast at any time in exchange for the receipt, in whole or in part, of consideration to the licensee, its principals or employees."
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Dominion representatives declined to comment for this story, other than to say the FCC is investigating its allegations. Daystar attorney Richard Lloyd Sherman was unavailable for comment, but Daystar is already apparently feeling the heat: shortly after Dominion filed the grievance, Daystar dropped one of the programs Dominion mentioned in its FCC filing: The Doctor and the Word, a show hosted by Reginald B. Cherry in which the Texas pastor sells health products he says are divinely ordained.
Legal morasses like those that Daystar face was a factor is CCCD trustees accepting the Foundation's lower bid for KOCE. Before the Oct. 13 auction, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting revealed that if KOCE did not remain a public television station, it would sue the district for $22 million to reimburse all the funds it had donated over the years.
So, in essence, the CCCD merely chose one potential lawsuit over another, especially given Lamb's own words. A regular Daystar viewer says Lamb has boasted on-air that he has a "PhD in legal matters" and "that God has anointed him in legal matters." The viewer also pointed to a May 2003 broadcast of Daystar's anchor show, Celebration,where Lamb said he battled "at least 10 lawsuits" during the purchase of previous educational channels.
"This is Marcus Lamb's method of operation," says a source familiar with the broadcaster and who requested anonymity. "If he doesn't get his way in the normal business process, he threatens legal action not because he thinks he'll win, but because he hopes the other side will cave because they can't either afford financially the lawsuit or the bad press he'll surely cause."