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An open Internet, for God’s sake!

  16th March 201516/03/15

By Valarie Kaur and Cheryl Leanza

This week, a handful of Republicans will hold hearings on the Hill to challenge new federal rules protecting the Internet. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reclassified providers who connect us to the Internet as common carriers and adopted strong rules banning them from blocking or slowing down sites and charging access fees.

The vote is already touted as among the greatest public interest victories in U.S. history, most vocally by the tech world. But also among those celebrating this vote are America’s Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and humanists. What’s faith got to do with it?

The Internet has become the prophetic platform of the 21st century. Progressive and conservative, a new generation of faith leaders are connecting with their congregations, serving communities, and organizing for change – all online. These prominent American faith leaders and faith-based organizations recognize that the open Internet is essential for their communities. The decisive vote for net neutrality promises to secure the future of religious and spiritual life in America. Congress should not roll back this historic victory, for God’s sake, and for ours.

The voices of people of faith have been seldom heard in the public debate on “net neutrality.” But in the last year of open Internet debate,  the United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry coordinated a campaign to raise the profile of faith communities on the issue. Faithful Internet has amplified the voices of hundreds of faith leaders, including in testimonials and videos.

From the top of the Vatican, Helen Osman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explains that “Pope Francis’ inspirational message of hope” could be shared with millions of people around the world only because of the Open Internet.

On the streets of North Carolina, Rev. William Barber, leader of the Moral Mondays movement, said, “Right now the web is a place where all Americans have an equal voice, regardless of color, economic status, or beliefs. We need to keep it that way.”

We agree. As Christian and Sikh interfaith leaders ourselves, we founded Faithful Internet to help educate faith leaders and offer a platform for their voices. Few have a greater stake in the fight for an open Internet than people of faith.

Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, gurdwaras, and other houses of worship increasingly rely on the Internet as part of their basic operations. Each year, another 10,000 congregations launch a website. They’re posting sermons and bulletins, raising funds, and building community online. In fact, the United Church of Christ and Unitarian Universalists are creating entire congregations online – live, video-intensive communities. The FCC’s open Internet rules enable faith groups to run their houses of worship effectively and affordably and reach new generations.

The new rules also represent a step toward equality in America. People of faith and moral fiber strive for a society where every person has an equal chance to flourish – an open Internet is essential for that in the 21st century. Low-income families need the open Internet to start businesses, search for jobs, take classes, and register to vote. Meaningful net neutrality protects the Internet as a place where every American – no matter the color of our skin, the size of our wallets, or the content of our beliefs – can have an equal voice.

Moreover, the open Internet protects the future of interfaith cooperation in America. It’s where we can engage people who are different from us – perhaps a Sikh or Humanist or Muslim — and hear their story, even when we can’t make that first step in the real world. Millennials are driving new online platforms for interfaith engagement that includes dialogue, service, and advocacy. The FCC’s vote opens the door for greater innovation to come.

This FCC vote was not just an astonishing political win but a moral victory, too. One year ago, this win was unimaginable. Large Internet service providers wanted the power to block and slow down sites; create fast lanes for those who could pay, and slow lanes for the rest of us. It didn’t seem like every day Americans stood a chance. But millions of people of many faiths and backgrounds, recognizing what was at stake, formed powerful coalitions of public interest groups with businesses, scholars, and lawmakers. It was a groundswell that made the FCC vote possible. A testament to the power of diverse communities coming together as one.

But the fight is not over. Powerful corporations are threatening to take the FCC’s decision to court and pushing legislation to roll back the victory.  Congress has a choice: members can cave in to a few large companies or heed the will of millions of Americans of all faiths, backgrounds, and political persuasions. The good news is that in the weeks to come, America’s faith leaders will defend the FCC’s vote and urge Congress to let the victory stand, not just as sound policy, but as a moral imperative — with liberty and Internet for all.

This article was originally published in The Hill. It can be found here.

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