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Alabama Public Television Officials Allegedly Ousted For Opposing Religious Material

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That's the claim of a lawsuit filed in Alabama last week by former Alabama Public Television Executive Director Allan Pizzato, who was fired mid-June alongside Deputy Director and CFO Pauline Howland. Pizzato, who had worked as executive director since 2000 and was named 2011 Non-Profit CEO of the Year by the Birmingham Business Journal, is aiming the lawsuit at the Alabama Educational Television Commission's seven members.

Pizzato alleges that during the Commission's June 12 meeting, those accused in the lawsuit discussed Pizzato's performance as director, violating the Alabama Open Meetings Act. More importantly, however, the plaintiff's attorneys also assert that the commission has failed to turn over the concordant audio recordings -- in addition to the agendas, emails, and assorted documents -- that could prove that Pizzato's and Howland's firing were motivated not by poor performance but by their refusal to allow overt religiosity to be aired on their station.

According to the lawsuit:

Several months ago, it became clear that certain members of the Commission wanted to impose their own personal, political and religious views on other members of the Commission, the programming that aired on Alabama Public Television, the staff, and the direction of the station itself.

The firings of Pizzato and Howland resulted in the resignation of all non-Commission members of the station's fundraising team -- including one, Joe Mays, who had served for 20 years -- as well as five of the seven members on the Board of Directors. And it was one of the former board members -- the source remains unnamed -- who claimed that the commission had attempted to "force Pizzato to air Christian-themed programming by ... Barton."

(It should be noted that the firings, lawsuit, and resignations come amidst some of the steepest cuts in public television funding yet seen across the state. Between 2008-11, the station lost 50 percent of its state funding, forcing it to shutter its Montgomery bureau and lay off 19 members of its staff.)

The programming in question, which was being considered for inclusion on APT at the time of the firings, was the "American Heritage Series," a set of documentaries examining the "new version of history [that] has assaulted the moral and spiritual fiber of our nation." The videos are produced by WallBuilders, an organization founded and directed by Barton.

According to Howland, Pizzato and his staff shared "grave concerns" over airing Barton's material, but members of the AETC maintain that Pizzato's views on the matter played no role in his firing.

Though having never received a history degree, Barton, a former co-chair of the Texas Republican Party and frequent guest on Glenn Beck's assorted programs, is a darling of far-right punditry. Indeed, Barton was one of the first public voices to avow that the Muslim Brotherhood had seeped into every level of American government, a theory recently promulgated by Barton-supporter Rep. Michele Bachmann.

But his brand of Christian-infused history has found common critique from academics and historians alike, and has been assailed on both right and left alike.

Even with such dubious distinctions, Rodney Herring, one of the commissioners at APT and a current member of the Alabama Republican Party Executive Committee, said he still believes Barton's documentaries to be "appropriate for public television, according to the attorneys we have consulted." Herring offered further support, saying, "Lots of other programs cover the negative stuff. [Barton's programming] makes you feel good about being American."

None of Barton's material would air over the next three months, Herring said -- but after that waiting period, the station will return to program planning, with fewer voices to deter Barton's historical revisionism from airing on Alabama's public airwaves.