FAQ: Can a non-commercial educational station (LPFM or full-service) carry either a program or underwriting message encouraging people to "come to church"? Isn't this a "call to action"?
Let's first review Section 399b of the Communications Act. Let's first look at subsection (a):
(a)“Advertisement” defined ~ For purposes of this section, the term “advertisement” means any message or other programming material which is broadcast or otherwise transmitted in exchange for any remuneration, and which is intended—
(1) to promote any service, facility, or product offered by any person who is engaged in such offering for profit;
(2) to express the views of any person with respect to any matter of public importance or interest; or
(3) to support or oppose any candidate for political office.
This part of the Act defines what a "commercial" is. Now let's look at subsection (b):
(b) Offering of services, facilities, or products permitted; advertisements prohibited
(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), each public broadcast station shall be authorized to engage in the offering of services, facilities, or products in exchange for remuneration.
(2) No public broadcast station may make its facilities available to any person for the broadcasting of any advertisement.
(subsections (c) and (d) are related to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and are not relevant in this conversation.)
The kay words here are found in (a)(1) where it states "who is engaged in such offering for profit". Unless the church is a tax-paying for-profit corporation and not a true non-profit (at least recognized by state laws, does not necessarily have to be an IRS 501(c) organization), you can run a message that encourages listeners to come to their church. If you want to be a little more conservative on this issue, you can always word the copy to encourage people to "come to church" as opposed to "come to our church".
"First Avenue Baptist Church supports programming on WREC-LP. First Avenue Baptist reminds WREC listeners to come to church this weekend, you'll be glad you did!"
This is a good conservative generic version of the copy if you are worried about crossing the line or keeping consistency with your secular and for-profit underwriters. But because First Avenue Baptist is a non-profit registered with the state and quite possibly a 501(c), there should not be an issue with:
"First Avenue Baptist Church supports programming on WREC-LP. We are an upbeat charismatic congregation filled with lots of positivitity and joy. Sunday School is at 9 and services start at 10. Come join us this Sunday and make church a part of your busy life."
While this may work for churches, this will not work for other religious businesses such as Christian book stores or for-profit Christian schools. For-profit businesses, regardless of whether they are faith-based or secular would be subject to the various FCC policies including calls to action.
This information was prepared by a non-attorney and should not be construed as legal advice. For legal advice, please contact an attorney qualified on non-commercial educational broadcast law.