BOSTON – A new documentary coming to PBS is stirring passions on both sides of the Boy Scouts' ban on gay scout leaders, and renewing debate on the issue of using government money to make and air such stories.
Scout's Honor looks at the Boy Scouts of America's policy of excluding homosexual scout leaders, a rule that was reviewed and allowed to stand by the Supreme Court in June 2000.
"This is a film that really goes deep and says, 'Here is what millions of Americans are concerned about right now in their lives,'" film producer Tom Shepard said. "And that is what PBS is here to show people."
The film won Best Documentary at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, and is to be shown as part of the Public Broadcasting Service's "Point of View" series, a collection of independently produced documentaries.
But some wonder if a publicly funded documentary that would be shown on a government-backed network ought to come out with what they charge is a pro-homosexual message. The documentary was produced with funds provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the congressionally created nonprofit organization that provides funding for PBS stations.
"PBS does not have a mandate to be the pro-homosexual broadcasting service," said Peter LaBarbera, of the Culture and Family Institute. "They're supposed to look at both sides of the issue."
LaBarbera is trying to stop what he charges is pro-gay propaganda from being distributed, mainly by e-mailing local PBS stations and urging them not to air the documentary.
He points out that Scout's Honor was produced in association with the Independent Television Service, an organization mandated by Congress in 1991 to "fund and promote programming that addresses the needs of underserved audiences." LaBarbera said the documentary violated that directive by applying it to the gay community.
"To claim they're underserved, I think, is a joke," he said. "The people who are really underserved are the people of faith and traditional morality that think the Scouts are under terrible attack from liberal institutions."
Even Shepard conceded there's a definite perspective in his documentary. But it's one he said he hopes will leave viewers knowing more about the issue.
"I think the film takes a position," he said. "I think it takes a strong position and I hope the film will illuminate this debate."
Cara Mertes, executive producer of the Point of View series, said PBS won't kowtow to any single political viewpoint, whether it's the gay community's or LaBarbera's.
"If you look at the spectrum on PBS, you'll see that there's any number of points of view shown," she said. "We don't look at shows to see if they're liberal or conservative."
One group that won't have its opinions aired firsthand on the documentary is the Boy Scouts of America, which refused comment both in Scout's Honor and for Fox News.
Fox News Channel media analyst Eric Burns, who has viewed the film, said that though the film's cost in tax dollars comes to "less than a penny a person," the danger comes in the precedent the documentary sets. Despite Mertes' claim to present all views, Scout's Honor doesn't give equal air time to people who support the Boy Scout ban, he said.
"What this documentary did was make all opponents of gays in scouting look virulently anti-scouting," he said.
But regardless of Burns' criticisms, LaBarbera's indignation and the Boy Scouts' silence, Shepard said television audiences across the country ought to be prepared.
"Oh, this documentary will definitely air," he said.