September 2012 Church & State | People & Events

The executive director of Alabama Public Television was fired recently, reportedly for refusing to air a series of DVDs by David Barton, a Religious Right pseudo-historian in Texas.

Allan Pizzato was abruptly let go in June when he resisted pressure from members of the Alabama Educational Television Commission to air the Barton material. Alabama PBS Deputy Director Pauline Howland was fired at the same time.

Barton, who runs a group called WallBuilders in Aledo, Texas, insists that the United States was founded to be a “Christian nation” and that church-state separation is a “myth.” His work has been solidly debunked by scholars, but his videos and literature remain popular with the Religious Right.

Pizzato and Howland were not given a reason for their firing, but Howland told the blog that earlier this year, Commissioner Rodney Herring, an Opelika chiropractor, began pressuring Pizzato to air a 10-part series by Barton on America’s “Christian” roots.

Pizzato balked – and that may explain why he’s out of a job. Howland said that Pizzato and others on the staff had “grave concerns” about the content of the Barton DVDs. They felt the series was overtly religious and designed to advocate a certain political point of view.

In July, Pizzato filed a lawsuit over the matter. He claims that the seven-member board violated Alabama’s open-meetings laws when it fired him and that Commission Chairman Ferris Stephens is serving on the commission illegally. (Stephens is an assistant attorney general for the state, and Pizzato says state law forbids government employees from serving on the commission.)

Howland is also said to be considering litigation. A statement from a law firm representing her said she was fired “without notice, reason or cause.”

Stephens denied that Pizzato and Howland were let go over their refusal to air the Barton DVDs.

When the Birmingham News asked Stephens if Alabama Public Television was going to air the Barton series, he replied, “We may suggest things to whoever the director is, but that’s really not our role to start ordering things like that…. Down the road, there may be some innovative programming, but right now, there is none.”

Stephens insisted that Pizzato was let go because the commission wanted new leadership.

Barton, meanwhile, continues to dodge efforts to hold him accountable. He has ignored requests that he appear in public forums with critics Warren Throckmorton of Grove City College and John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College.

In one case, Truth in Action Ministries, a Florida group founded by the late TV preacher D. James Kennedy, asked Barton to appear on a radio show after Fea was interviewed. Barton still refused – even though Truth in Action is favorable to his view.