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Article published October 6, 2001
DETROIT - Controversial Rev. Rick Strawcutter, who is nationally known for battling the federal government over the pirate radio station he runs from his church in Adrian, was pulled off the air yesterday by a federal judge.
Judge Gerald Rosen of the U.S. District Court in Detroit authorized the closure of Radio Free Lenawee, which is broadcast on 99.3 FM from a small room inside the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He allowed U.S. marshals to seize some radio equipment, including amplifiers and part of the satellite receiver.
The judge would not allow federal authorities to dismantle the 100-foot radio tower but warned that it would be taken down if transmissions were attempted before the case is settled.
U.S. marshals served Mr. Strawcutter papers at 1:30 p.m. Thursday that ordered the station to terminate operating.
The pastor has been operating the station without a license since 1996. The program often has featured nationally known conservative speakers, and the pastor talks about everything from gun control to his own anti-government views.
He has been criticized by national watchdog groups, which say he has links to some of the most widely known hate groups in the country. When federal agents first started looking into the station, the pastor kept a gun in the station room.
But that is not what concerns the Federal Communications Commission.
The agency accused Mr. Strawcutter of operating the station without a license. It contends that the station operates at 8,000 to 10,000 times the power that is allowed for unlicensed stations. Federal officials allege that the frequency at which the pastor runs his station could interfere with other radio stations and with transmissions from airplanes and emergency communication centers.
"What do you mean it could? I’d like to see where it does," Mr. Strawcutter, who represented himself at the hearing, said. "I’ve looked high and low for pilots who have had these problems, and I haven’t come across one."
FCC district director James Bridgewater acknowledged that the stations that complained about Radio Free Lenawee did not say it interfered with their transmissions.
"They didn’t say there was a technical problem, other than not having a license," Mr. Bridgewater said.
Mr. Strawcutter is well known among pirate radio operators across the country for fighting the FCC and trying to allow access to the airwaves for all small-powered radio operators. About 50 of his supporters jammed into the courtroom to watch the hearing.
Martha Farnam, who helps out on the program, cried when she heard it would be taken off the air.
"What it sounds like to me is that God owns the airwaves he created, not the FCC," Ms. Farnam said.
The FCC filed a complaint in federal court in 1997 against Radio Free Lenawee at 97.7 FM because the agency claimed the reverend needed a license to operate the station. The agency later alleged that the frequency interfered with other stations. In 1999, a judge ruled that the FCC did not have a right to shut the station down because it did not follow its own hearing process before going to court. The FCC pressed on.
Mr Strawcutter has contended that it is unconstitutional for the FCC to crack down on small stations because they do not have licenses, when it is not possible for small stations to obtain licenses. He said it limits freedom of speech. During his hearing, he asked the FCC if it is possible for him to acquire a license.
Mr. Bridgewater said the metropolitan area is congested with frequencies, so no more are available. He said the agency does grant licenses to small stations in other areas.
Judge Rosen postponed the case until the pastor gets an attorney and prepares a defense.
The radio station is notorious in Lenawee County. Politicians debate on the unlicensed station before elections. Businesses advertise on Radio Free Lenawee.
Pete Hayes with Hayes Insurance Agency, Inc., of Adrian said he didn’t know Mr. Strawcutter’s program was off the air until he turned on his radio.
Mr. Hayes, who describes himself as a supporter of the minister, will be affected by the shutdown in more than a personal sense. He runs advertisements for his insurance company on Mr. Strawcutter’s airwaves in paid, 30-second spots. "I was just doing it to support him," My Hayes said. "He’s a very intelligent person."
The pastor sells videos in the backroom of his 250-member church that offer anti-government rhetoric and Jewish conspiracy beliefs. He has said he believes blacks and whites should not marry and homosexuals in prison should be executed.
|Article published October 13, 2001
Strawcutter vows to continue fight over broadcasts
ADRIAN TWP. -- Facing another court battle over his radio station, the Rev. Rick Strawcutter said he plans to fight to continue his microbroadcasts on Radio Free Lenawee.
"We believe we have a very good case," Strawcutter said. "There are a lot of contested issues of fact and I think a reasonable jury will rule in our favor."
A federal judge ordered Strawcutter last week to halt microbroadcasts on Radio Free Lenawee from his low-power station at The Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Adrian Township. U.S. Marshals seized radio broadcasting equipment Oct. 4, but U.S. District Court Judge Gerald E. Rosen allowed Strawcutter to keep the station's radio tower, computers and CD players, according to court documents.
Strawcutter said he may represent himself in the case, but is consulting with at least one attorney to represent him.
"There are some core values at stake," Strawcutter said. "Even my enemies recognize the value of the First Amendment being intact."
The Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit are making a second attempt at silencing Radio Free Lenawee. A case brought by the federal government against Strawcutter was dismissed in 1998 by U.S. District Court Judge Abele Cook Jr.
The case maintained that Strawcutter's broadcasts at 97.7 FM were interfering with a Toledo radio station's signal. The broadcasts were deemed illegal because the 95-watt station is not licensed, although the FCC does not grant licenses for stations under 100 watts.
An FCC spokesman said the agency will not comment on the case against Strawcutter and referred all inquiries to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit.
Strawcutter said he's attempted to obtain a license from the FCC, but the agency has been uncooperative and thrown up barriers to discourage microbroadcasters who want to be licensed, but don't want to run a large-scale radio operation.
The government's case against Strawcutter asserts that his broadcast wattage is greater than the allowable amount. It also includes complaints from local radio stations WLEN-FM, WQTE-FM and WABJ-AM, who pay license fees to the FCC for their broadcasts.
"Their complaints, I call it whining, basically say that if we've got to be licensed, he's got to be licensed," Strawcutter said.
He believes local radio stations feel threatened by Radio Free Lenawee because it offers local programming that people want to listen to and draws listeners away from them. Strawcutter said he would have paid to continue his show "The Last Straw" on any of the three commercial stations in Adrian.
"WLEN would not sell me another hour of time for the program and WABJ and WQTE refused to consider it," Strawcutter said. "Radio Free Lenawee emerged because the other guys in the market would not create room for us."
Strawcutter said he feels a kinship with Rosa Parks, who refused to go along with unjust laws to pave the way for advancement of civil rights in America.
"What I'm saying to the FCC is that it's futile to petition for a license because they won't grant you one," Strawcutter said. "There is something fundamentally wrong in America when you can be deprived of your right to speak and interact with others."
Although the radio station is silent, Strawcutter says he will find a way to continue his show. Internet broadcasting is one possibility and he is considering national syndication on the Genesis Communications Network.
"Radio Free Lenawee is coming back," Strawcutter said. "I'm not sure what forum it will be in just yet, but it will be back."
Pastor to defend self, ‘bootleg’ broadcasts
By ERICA BLAKE
ADRIAN - The Rev. Rick Strawcutter will defend himself in a federal lawsuit charging him with operating a pirate radio station from his Lenawee County church.
Controversial and known for battling the federal government’s attempt to block unlicensed radio stations, Mr. Strawcutter’s operation was recently shut down for the second time by federal officials. In response to the U.S. attorney’s lawsuit claiming that he was illegally operating a radio station, the reverend asked that a jury hear the matter in trial.
No further court appearances are scheduled for the case.
Mr. Strawcutter had been broadcasting Radio Free Lenawee on 99.3 FM from a small room inside the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The frequency is the second station Mr. Strawcutter used to transmit everything from nationally known conservative speakers to the pastor’s opinions on issues such as gun control and the faults of the government.
But Radio Free Lenawee has emitted silence since Oct. 4, when federal marshals served Mr. Strawcutter papers ordering the station to terminate operations.
The next day, Judge Gerald Rosen of the U.S. District Court in Detroit authorized officials to seize some radio equipment, including amplifiers and part of the satellite receiver.
The station’s 100-foot tower remains intact, but he was told it will be dismantled if transmissions are attempted before the case is settled.
Mr. Strawcutter represented himself at the Oct. 5 hearing and was given a month to retain an attorney and organize a defense.
In his response filed last week, Mr. Strawcutter said he had made an effort to find a lawyer who is familiar with the issues of his case but could not find a competent attorney who has the time to devote to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit developed when the Federal Communications Commission accused Mr. Strawcutter of operating a station without a license. The agency contends that Radio Free Lenawee operated over the power level that is allowed for unlicensed stations.
Mr. Strawcutter, who refused to comment, offered nine defenses in his written response to the case. Notably, the pastor pointed out the FCC regulation that says no formal applications need to be filed by radio station operators during "war or emergency periods."
"President George Bush declared war with Iraq, and there has been no formal declaration which has ended that declaration to this day," Mr. Strawcutter wrote. "Additionally, the War Powers Act of 1933 created a state of war for the United States which has never been rescinded. And the recent attack upon the twin trade towers in New York has additionally created a new emergency period, if not a complete state of war."
Attorney Hugh Davis with Constitutional Litigation Associates in Detroit said the pastor raises an interesting issue.
He said the presiding judge should take the issue into consideration. Mr. Davis, a self-proclaimed civil libertarian, consulted with Mr. Strawcutter on the issue but did not file an appearance with the court and will not officially represent the pastor.
He declined to say why.
“I’m interested in the issue, but after consultation he decided to represent himself at this time in this case,” he said. “Beyond that I don’t think it would be appropriate to say what our discussions involved.”
Mr. Strawcutter noted as a defense that it he is “compelled by moral necessity to reach his fellow man with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ,” and that the seriousness of this command forces him to do whatever he can to communicate.
Mr. Strawcutter pointed out that the FCC failed to prove any record of complaints that his station interfered with other broadcasts or emergency radio waves.