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The Woman Who Separated Church From State

The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today


It’s not always easy to be ahead of one’s time. In 1945, Vashti McCollum, a mother of three and a part-time square-dancing teacher in Champaign, Ill. became one of the most notorious women in America when she sued the local public schools for teaching a class on Christianity. She received mountains of hate mail, her 10-year old son was beaten up in school and smeared in court as a “misfit,” and her husband’s university job was threatened.

But her unwavering efforts paid off. Three years later, her landmark Supreme-Court case, McCollum v. Board of Education, established the separation of church and state in public schools, leading to a more secular society overall.

The Lord is Not On Trial Here Today is a Peabody Award-winning documentary that tells the compelling personal story of 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 says 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."

Watch Preview Trailer on PBS. See more from The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today.