A one-hour PBS documentary, “The Lord is Not on Trial Here Today,” tells the compelling story of the landmark First Amendment case that established the separation of church and state in public schools. The film recounts what plaintiff Vashti McCollum later described as “three years of headlines, headaches and hatred,” but eventually led to a decision that still resonates in the church-state conflicts of today, more than 60 years after McCollum v. Board of Education was decided.
Written, produced and directed by Jay Rosenstein, the Peabody Award-winning documentary is narrated by former “M*A*S*H” TV star David Ogden Stiers. Check your local station for exact date and time of the May PBS broadcast in your area. If it is not in the lineup, ask your station to schedule it. It’s available for purchase by educational institutions from New Day Films (website below).
“When U.S. Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell expressed her confusion about separation of church and state in a debate during the 2010 election, the video of it quickly went viral,” Rosenstein said. “But O’Donnell is not alone: Many Americans have no idea about the source and legitimacy of the phrase ‘separation of church and state.’ ”
The late Vashi McCollum was an honorary FFRF officer and appeared several times at FFRF conventions. The Foundation has kept in print her classic book, One Woman’s Fight, about winning the 1948 Supreme Court case. FFRF also interviewed her for its film, “Champions of the First Amendment.” Her son, Dannel McCollum, has published The Lord Was Not on Trial: The Inside Story. FFRF distributed more than 400 copies of Dan’s book to Illinois public and public school libraries and to law libraries around the nation.
Vashti, a young mother of three from a small central Illinois town, was called “that awful woman” by her neighbors and “that atheist mother” by newspapers across the country.
Her friends stopped returning phone calls rather than risk speaking with her. She was branded a communist, and the Illinois Legislature nearly outlawed her and her husband from ever working at the state university again. She got as many as 200 letters a day. Some of the writers claimed they would pray for her; many others wished her much worse.
All because, in 1945, she filed a historic lawsuit that forever changed the relationship between religion and public schools in America.