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The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today

by Jay Rosenstein

The Peabody Award-winning story of how separation of church and state began in American public schools, and the courageous woman who made it happen.

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She 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 State Legislature nearly outlawed her and her husband from ever working at the state university again.  She received up to 200 letters a day, some of the writers claiming they would pray for her; many wishing for much worse.
All because, in 1945, Vashti McCollum would file a historic lawsuit that would forever change the relationship between religion and public school in America – and turn this young housewife from central Illinois into an unlikely champion of the separation of church and state.
 The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today is a Peabody Award-winning documentary that tells the compelling personal story of the late Vashti McCollum, and how her efforts to protect her ten year-old son led to one of the most important and landmark First Amendment cases in U.S. Supreme Court history - the case that established the separation of church and state in public schools.  The case is little-known by the contemporary American public, yet the McCollum decision continues to have important ramifications for current conflicts over the role of religion in public institutions - from displays of the Ten Commandments in government buildings to student-led prayers at public school graduation ceremonies.
The film recounts what Vashti McCollum later described as "three years of headlines, headaches, and hatred," and the dramatic legal maneuverings that led to a decision that shocked the nation and made the McCollums a household name.  "Beautifully researched" according to the Peabody Awards, perhaps one reviewer described it best: "The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today (tells) a little-known story of a woman, a court case, and a movement that changed American society forever."
The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today is written, produced, and directed by Jay Rosenstein.  Narration by former M*A*S*H TV actor David Ogden Stiers.
Major funding by the Independent Television Service; the Office of the Chancellor, University of Illinois, Urbana; the Illinois Humanities Council.


quoteAn exceptional film. Superb in situating the Court case in a historical context.
American Bar Association

quoteThe meaning of religious establishment snaps firmly into focus with this excellent documentary on the First Amendment. This engaging film reveals the great difficulty -- and ultimate satisfaction -- of challenging society's mores and settled law. Highly recommended.
Bruce Dierenfield, Professor of History, Canisius College

quoteAn enlightening, compelling film that tells the important story of how one courageous woman stood up for the separation of church and state against all odds. Great for use in classes ranging from law and legal studies through religious studies and American history.
Avi Soifer, Dean, Richardson School of Law, University of Hawai'i

quoteA classic documentary-style production, telling a little-known story of a woman, a court case, and a movement that changed American society forever and for the better.
Jack David Eller
Anthropology Review Database

quoteA remarkable story of how one citizen's courage and
idealism profoundly affected a nation's future, this is highly recommended.

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  • George Foster Peabody Award

  • Bill Moyers' list of "Ten Documentaries of Champions of Social Justice"

  • Emmy Award, Best Historical Documentary, Mid-America region

  • Emmy Award, Best Writing, Mid-America region

  • Silver Gavel Award, American Bar Association - Best Television Program For Fostering the Public's Understanding of Law, 2010

  • Gracie Award, Outstanding Documentary - Local, Alliance for Women in Media

  • National PBS Broadcast

  • CINE Golden Eagle - Historical Non-Fiction Television Division

  • Bronze Telly - Documentary Category

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