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Public Theology: Incredible! CBS and NBC Refuse to Air Ad of the UCC
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Incredible! CBS and NBC Refuse to Air Ad of the UCC
The United Church of Christ (UCC) is protesting the refusal of CBS and NBC to air an ad featuring inclusion. Let CBS and NBC know your feelings about this today!

CBS and NBC are refusing to air an ad produced by the United Church of Christ (UCC) because it advocates religious inclusion. The ad shows bouncers turning away a variety of people at the door of a church – including ethnic minorities and two men who may be a homosexual couple. The announcer says, "Jesus doesn't turn people away. Neither do we. No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey you are welcome here."

In a letter to the UCC, CBS is refusing to air the advertisement because the commercial "touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations." Also, CBS found the ad "unacceptable" because "the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman." NBC similarly declared the ad "too controversial."

The ad has been accepted and will air on a number of networks, including ABC Family, AMC, BET, Discovery, Fox, Hallmark, History, Nick@Nite, TBS, TNT, Travel and TV Land.

Email CBS and NBC and tell them to air the advertisement because everyone in this country – not just the Bush administration – should be able to freely express their opinions.


Below is a news release from the UCC:

CBS, NBC refuse to air church's television advertisement

United Church of Christ ad highlighting Jesus' extravagant welcome called 'too controversial'

For immediate release Nov. 30, 2004

CLEVELAND -- The CBS and NBC television networks are refusing to run a 30-second television ad from the United Church of Christ because its all-inclusive welcome has been deemed "too controversial."

The ad, part of the denomination's new, broad identity campaign set to begin airing nationwide on Dec. 1, states that -- like Jesus -- the United Church of Christ seeks to welcome all people, regardless of ability, age, race, economic circumstance or sexual orientation.

According to a written explanation from CBS, the United Church of Christ is being denied network access because its ad implies acceptance of gay and lesbian couples -- among other minority constituencies -- and is, therefore, too "controversial."

"Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations," reads an explanation from CBS, "and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks."

Similarly, a rejection by NBC declared the spot "too controversial."

"It's ironic that after a political season awash in commercials based on fear and deception by both parties seen on all the major networks, an ad with a message of welcome and inclusion would be deemed too controversial," says the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president. "What's going on here?"

Negotiations between network officials and the church's representatives broke down today (Nov. 30), on the day before the ad campaign was set to begin airing nationwide on a combination of broadcast and cable networks. The ad has been accepted and will air on a number of networks, including ABC Family, AMC, BET, Discovery, Fox, Hallmark, History, Nick@Nite, TBS, TNT, Travel and TV Land, among others.

The debut 30-second commercial features two muscle-bound "bouncers" standing guard outside a symbolic, picturesque church and selecting which persons are permitted to attend Sunday services. Written text interrupts the scene, announcing, "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." A narrator then proclaims the United Church of Christ's commitment to Jesus' extravagant welcome: "No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here." (The ad can be viewed online at

In focus groups and test market research conducted before the campaign's national rollout, the UCC found that many people throughout the country feel alienated by churches. The television ad is geared toward those persons who, for whatever reason, have not felt welcomed or comfortable in a church.

"We find it disturbing that the networks in question seem to have no problem exploiting gay persons through mindless comedies or titillating dramas, but when it comes to a church's loving welcome of committed gay couples, that's where they draw the line," says the Rev. Robert Chase, director of the UCC's communication ministry.

CBS and NBC's refusal to air the ad "recalls the censorship of the 1950s and 1960s, when television station WLBT in Jackson, Miss., refused to show people of color on TV," says Ron Buford, coordinator for the United Church of Christ identity campaign. Buford, of African-American heritage, says, "In the 1960s, the issue was the mixing of the races. Today, the issue appears to be sexual orientation. In both cases, it's about exclusion."

In 1959, the Rev. Everett C. Parker organized United Church of Christ members to monitor the racist practices of WLBT. Like many southern television stations at the time, WLBT had imposed a news blackout on the growing civil rights movement, pulling the plug on then-attorney Thurgood Marshall. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. implored the UCC to get involved in the media civil rights issues. Parker, founding director of the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, organized churches and won in federal court a ruling that the airwaves are public, not private property. That decision ultimately led to an increase in the number of persons of color in television studios and newsrooms. The suit clearly established that television and radio stations, as keepers of the public airwaves, must broadcast in the public interest.

"The consolidation of TV network ownership into the hands of a few executives today puts freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression in jeopardy," says former FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani, currently managing director of the UCC's Office of Communication. "By refusing to air the United Church of Christ's paid commercial, CBS and NBC are stifling religious expression. They are denying the communities they serve a suitable access to differing ideas and expressions."

Adds Andrew Schwartzman, president and CEO of the not-for-profit Media Access Project in Washington, D.C., "This is an abuse of the broadcasters' duty to inform their viewers on issues of importance to the community. After all, these stations don't mind carrying shocking, attention-getting programming, because they do that every night."

The United Church of Christ's national offices -- located in Cleveland -- speak to, but not for, its nearly 6,000 congregations and 1.3 million members. In the spirit of the denomination's rich tradition, UCC congregations remain autonomous, but also strongly in covenant with each other and with the denomination's regional and national bodies.">


For immediate release Dec. 9, 2004

United Church of Christ files petition with FCC over networks' refusal of church advertisement

UCC: Ad's rejection denies 'full range of religious expression'

CLEVELAND -- The United Church of Christ today (Dec. 9) is filing two petitions with the Federal Communications Commission, asking that two network owned-and-operated television stations in Miami be denied license renewals for failing to provide viewers "suitable access" to a full array of "social, political, esthetic, moral and other ideas and experiences."

WFOR-TV (a CBS station) and WJVT-TV (an NBC station) -- whose operating licenses are currently up for FCC review -- are being challenged because "there is substantial and material question" as to whether the stations' parent companies, Viacom, Inc., and the General Electric Company, have operated the stations in the public interest, the petitions state.

The action stems from a much-publicized decision by both networks to deny an advertisement that makes clear the church's welcome of diverse, even marginalized, segments of the population. CBS and NBC have said the all-inclusive ads are "controversial" and, therefore, amount to "issue advocacy," something the networks have said they do not allow.

In a signed statement that accompanies the petition, the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president, said, "The religious, ethical and moral right of members of UCC churches and other citizens to have access to diverse pro­gram­ming has been harmed by the refusal of NBC and CBS to carry [the ad], as well as by their failure to carry pro­gram­ming reflecting the full range of religious expression in the United States on their networks and on their owned-and-operated stations."

Similarly signed complaints from a group of UCC members in south Florida make the case that those who live in the network stations' viewing area are being denied a positive message of inclusion.

"Ensuring that all Americans, especially women and people of color, have the opportunity to be seen and heard in today's media-saturated culture is vital to free expression," said the Rev. Robert Chase, director of the UCC's communication ministry. "It gives voice to God's rich mosaic and is essential in a full democracy."

Said Andrew J. Schwartzman, President and CEO of Media Access Project, "Broadcasters agree to serve the needs of the communities where they are licensed in exchange for receiving free use of publicly owned airwaves. That means everyone, not just people their advertisers care about." "The viewing public is harmed when powerful networks can label an ad 'controversial' and refuse to air it. Repeal of the Fairness Doctrine was supposed to result in the airing of more, not less, 'controversial' programming," said Angela Campbell, Director of Georgetown University Law Center's Institute for Public Representation. "It is time for the FCC to re-examine whether some sort of public right of access is required under the Communications Act and the First Amendment."

Ironically -- long before the current television ad controversy -- the United Church of Christ, through its Office of Communication, Inc. (OC, Inc.), has been at the forefront of media access issues for more than 40 years. During the civil rights era, the UCC was the first voice to demand that those holding FCC licenses and authorizations act on behalf of the public interest and be held accountable as stewards of the public trust.

Only three months ago, on Sept. 1, 2004, the UCC's Office of Communication, Inc., filed a petition with the FCC to deny license renewals of two television stations serving the Washington, D.C., area for failing to serve the educational needs of children.

"Who would have guessed that it would one day be our voice that was silenced?" Chase said. "When CBS and NBC refused to air our commercial because they considered it 'too controversial,' we found ourselves in the very position as other groups for whom we have historically been advocates." Gloria Tristani, OC Inc.'s managing director and a former FCC commissioner (1997-2001), said, "NBC and CBS and their stations must be accountable to the communities they are licensed to serve. How can it be in the public interest for television stations to exclude a church's message of inclusion?"

The FCC filing was done on behalf of the United Church of Christ by lawyers from Media Access Project and the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University.

United Church of Christ
Barb Powell, press contact
216-736-2175 <br>
On the web:
UCC filing site:

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Date Added: 12/1/2004 Date Revised: 12/9/2004 11:48:22 AM

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