The “Mass for Shut-Ins” has been broadcast in Washington DC for 60 years ― the last thirteen on WHUT a PBS affiliate. WLAE in New Orleans, also a PBS affiliate, has been broadcasting a Mass since 1984.

Now, PBS is considering a proposal that re-interprets a rule that would prohibit any PBS affiliate from broadcasting any religious (called sectarian) content or be refused the ability to broadcast PBS content.

The existing rule requires affiliates to present programs that are noncommercial, nonpartisan and nonsectarian. However, the non-sectarian part of the rule has always been loosely interpreted as has, some would say, the nonpartisan rule as well. But now the PBS board is set to vote next month on a committee recommendation that would strip affiliates like WHUT and WLAE of the ability to broadcast PBS services unless they dump the religious programming.

WHUT has said it will cancel the “Mass for Shut Ins” if the rule is passed.

[WaPo] “It’s kind of a shock to us,” said Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese. “They’ve been great partners of ours for a long time. . . . The Mass is a very local programming that provides a community service. You’d think public television would be about engaging the community.”

The folks at WLAE, which is partly owned by a Catholic lay group, have been showing the morning Mass since 1984 and it has become part of the station’s identity.

“We don’t want to lose our association with PBS, because they provide a lot of fine programs,” said Ron Yager, the station’s vice president and general manager. “But at the same time, we need to serve our community. We’ve built an identity around this. People know us for this.”

Yager said his station has never received a complaint about the Mass telecast in the 25 years it has aired. “I’m really not totally sure of their reasoning for doing this,” he said.

So what is the reason for doing this? Ostensibly, and rather ironically, PBS claims it is so that they can retain “editorial independence.” Obviously this independence does not extend to the affiliates. This seems rather contradictory since PBS lists as one of their guiding principles:

Local Station Autonomy

PBS believes that public broadcasting’s greatest potential is realized when it serves the unique needs of the local community, and that there are wide variations in local needs and tastes. No one is better qualified to determine and respond to those local needs than the public television station licensed to that community.

But now that autonomy is over. If this rule is passed stations must fall in line or face immediate ex-communication from the PBS family. Were that some religions were as draconian, ahem.

Whatever the particulars of the committee’s reasoning, the real reason is that we are witnessing a time where militant secularism is purging every last vestige of public religious life. PBS has long been an adjunct of the secularist movement and frankly it is rather surprising that the inquisition took this long in coming. Perhaps now any fear that funding would be withheld after such a maneuver is gone. Whatever they lose from the religious public (which I can’t imagine is much at this point) will more than be made up by their friends in Congress.

This rule change/re-interpretation is not yet a done deal as the vote is not until next month. A spokesperson for PBS said “We’re still gathering feedback from our members to see where they stand.” The question is will they stand? Will you?

PBS can be contacted:

PBS Foundation

2100 Crystal Drive, Arlington, VA 22202
Phone: (703) 739-5051
Fax: (703) 299-2985

ht to Carina — Thanks!