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.