The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is known for lots of things – "Sesame Street," Barney the purple dinosaur, "The Newshour," insightful documentaries, etc.
One thing PBS has not been associated with is promoting religion. PBS, of course, can air documentaries and other programs about religion, its history and its effect on culture. But proselytization and indoctrination should be verboten in a publicly funded institution that aspires to serve the public interest.
The issue came up recently after it came to light that a handful of PBS stations have been airing sectarian programs. A couple of stations, for example, regularly aired a Catholic mass. As it turns out, PBS has long had a policy barring sectarian content – as well as commercial and partisan programming – from its affiliates but hadn't been enforcing it.
Recently, PBS's board of directors decided that the measure should be enforced.
However, the board settled on a compromise for those few stations that offer sectarian programs. Those stations may continue to do so, but no new stations will be permitted to air religious programming.
Compromises usually leave some people unhappy, and this one is no exception. Some conservatives are complaining that PBS is hostile to religion. At Americans United, we would have preferred to see all sectarian content removed from PBS stations.
"There is some tax funding involved in public television, and that does make this shade into a church-and-state issue, because in general, we don't use tax dollars to promote sectarian programs," Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told Fox News Channel.
Lynn added, "What creates problems is when you have taxpayers directly or indirectly subsidizing evangelism."
I'm not just saying this because he's my boss, but Barry has it exactly right. PBS can still air programs about religion and discuss the topic in its news programs. (PBS, in fact, airs one of the few news programs that focuses on religion – the excellent "Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.")
Anyone who channel surfs knows that there is no shortage of devotional programming on television. If you doubt this, bust out your remote and make the rounds. You'll find evangelists of every stripe. There are entire cable and satellite channels devoted to religion, offering programs around the clock.
That's enough. There's no need for PBS to get into the business of proselytizing.