ESPN rejects, then OKs Christmas charity ad

ESPN will now allow a television ad heralding the birth of Christ during a college basketball game Saturday. The ad asks viewers to write to sick children and "help us reveal God's healing presence this Christmas."

ESPN has reversed course and will now allow a Catholic charity to air a television ad heralding the birth of Christ during a college basketball game this weekend, officials said.

The Cardinal Glennon Children's Foundation in St. Louis produced a 30-second spot asking viewers to write holiday messages to sick children. The ad seeks to "help us reveal God's healing presence this Christmas" and notes that the SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Center "celebrate(s) the birth of Jesus and the season of giving."

The foundation helps support the teaching hospital financially.

The cable sports network initially rejected the ad last week, saying it didn't meet its advocacy standards, and it asked the charity for an alternative version, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday. However after coming under criticism by conservative pundits including Sarah Palin and Bill O'Reilly, who deemed the rejection part of a so-called secular war on Christmas, ESPN reversed its decision, said Dan Buck, the nonprofit foundation's executive director.

Sarah Palin, who has a new book out "Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas," posted on Facebook: "ESPN, you've come a long way, baby... from your known wholesome, bold Americana "persona" to now being afraid to support freedom and not being bold enough to allow acknowledgement of the "Reason for the Season." So disappointing. Well, I hope you guys catch and enjoy the Christmas spirit anyway!"

Bill O’Reilly also has a new book out: "Killing Jesus: A History"

The ad is scheduled to run Saturday on ESPNU during a basketball game between Virginia Commonwealth and Northern Iowa. The Missouri Valley Conference, which works with the charity, donated the air time.

Buck said ESPN's vice president of communications, Josh Krulewitz, told him by phone Thursday that the ad could air.

"He said: 'We decided to take a harder look and it is well within the standards. We apologize for the mix-up,'" Buck said of his conversation Krulewitz. "I said: 'I appreciate you making the right decision. America will be happy you made the right decision, and I'm sorry it came to this.'"

Krulewitz provided a similar explanation to the newspaper.

"This decision is consistent with our practice of individual review of all ads under our commercial advocacy standards," he said.

Buck said the ad has been broadcast on local stations without incident. He said the message didn't advocate Christianity but was "simply professing our faith. ... We celebrate our mission. It's the core of who we are."

Before ESPN's reversal, the foundation provided an alternative version containing no holiday message but instead focusing on Cardinal Glennon's work treating children's heart conditions.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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