‘Big Tech’ censorship of religion is real and deserves an effective response, critics say

censorship of religion

The power of major internet companies like Facebook, Amazon, YouTube, and Twitter over public life is a particular threat to religious groups that focus on controversial issues like abortion, marriage, and sexuality, several commentators said at a roundtable last week.

These groups should prepare for the possibility of censorship and organize effective countermeasures, they said.

“You might not know the hour nor the day you will be censored,” Joshua D. Holdenreid, vice president and executive director of the California-based Napa Legal Institute, said at a roundtable on internet censorship.

Holdenreid said those involved in public debates “need to plan ahead and assume that if they are a religious organization or faith-based organization operating in the public square and focused on an issue that’s related to pro-life (topics), marriage, sexuality, Christian anthropology, they should just assume that they will eventually run afoul of these vague and arbitrary terms and conditions that exist with these Big Tech platforms.”

The Ethics and Public Policy Project (EPPC), a D.C. think tank that aims to apply “the Judeo-Christian tradition to contemporary questions of law, culture, and politics,” hosted the Aug. 26 roundtable “How Big Tech Censors Religious Voices, and How to Fight Back.”

The roundtable follows years of debate and discussion about how major technology and media companies treat some religious voices.

The most likely to suffer, Holdenreid said, aren’t necessarily organizations running soup kitchens or homeless shelters, but those who are “weighing in on the most important cultural issues” and “speaking the truth about certain issues that doesn’t align with what folks in Silicon Valley think should be appropriate for the digital public square.”

His organization, the Napa Legal Institute, provides legal and financial education to faith-based non-profits on corporate, tax, and philanthropic issues.

Another roundtable speaker, EPPC president Ryan T. Anderson, saw one of his books delisted from Amazon in February 2021.

The book, “When Harry Became Sally,” offers a philosophical and moral critique of transgender advocates’ claims.

Anderson said his book ranked highly on bestseller lists and was listed for sale on Amazon for three years.

In removing his book, he charged, the company did not follow its own procedures, such as contacting the author and publisher first to notify them and attempt to reach a solution.

He also questioned Amazon’s claim that the book violated its content policy.

“Well, how did the book not violate the content policy for the first three years?” he asked. “I didn’t go back and rewrite anything.”

The book’s title refers to a popular 1989 movie “When Harry Met Sally,” which dramatized an argument that men and women are so different that they can’t just be friends.

“Whereas today the argument is that men and women are interchangeable and that the concept of male and female is on a spectrum,” said Anderson, who is also the John Paul II teaching fellow in social thought at the University of Dallas.

Those who have not read the book, Anderson suggested, might see him as “some bomb-throwing bigot who wrote a book, making fun of transgender people” which in their view might justify a company like Amazon refusing to sell “hate speech.”

Anderson characterized his arguments as measured and careful. He warned that policies that silence the voices of writers like him encourage more radical voices to see moderation as a failure.

“It silences reasonable voices and then it radicalizes more extreme voices, which would have a really, really bad polarizing effect,” he said. Continue reading

  • Kevin J. Jones is a senior staff writer with Catholic News Agency. He was a recipient of a 2014 Catholic Relief Services’ Egan Journalism Fellowship.
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