PBS' Sectarian Neighborhood
PBS is banning all new religious programs to comply more faithfully with 1985 bylaws that require programs to be "noncommercial, nonpartisan and nonsectarian." The PBS board's decision doesn't effect any religious programs now airing.
Only a few PBS affiliates have any religious programs at all. Unless you count Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, which I do but only because the late, great Fred Rogers -- an ordained Presbyterian minister -- saw his kind and gentle, soft-shoe and sweater work as a ministry and a calling. Mister Rogers never talked about Jesus. He just acted like him.
I digress. Only six of the 356 PBS members stations currently broadcast "sectarian" programs, but three of those stations are owned and operated by religious organizations with clear sectarian missions. Should the PBS board have paid less attention to the handful of religious programs and looked more closely at their religious programmers?
KBYU in Provo, Utah, is operated by Brigham Young University, which is affiliated with the Mormon Church. According to its mission statement, "KBYU Television is dedicated to serving an audience with programming that reflects the values and mission of its sponsoring institutions, Brigham Young University and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." KBYU broadcasts "BYU Devotional" two hours each day. The devotions include lectures from LDS leaders.
KMBH is operated by the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. According to its Web site, the mission of KMBH is "to promote the arts, spiritual values and cultural development." The site also says "the original purpose of the foundation of KMBH could not be fulfilled without a clear Catholic direction." The station broadcasts six hours of religious programming each week, including Sunday mass, Bible study in Spanish, and a program hosted by a priest. In 2007, the station declined to air "Hand of God," a "Frontline" documentary about clergy sexual abuse.
WLAE in New Orleans is partly owned and operated by the Willwoods Community, a Catholic lay organization. "We seek to inspire all of God's children to create a more enlightened and caring society," WLEA's mission statement reads. The station broadcasts a daily Mass.
I have no doubt that all three of those affiliates are great neighbors in their respective communities. And I don't want to sound like Oscar the Grinch, but should religious organizations be using taxpayer supported public television to carry out sectarian missions?