Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'First Freedom' PBS Documentary Examines Founding Fathers' Intentions on Religious Liberty

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'First Freedom' PBS Documentary Examines Founding Fathers' Intentions on Religious Liberty

Article excerpt

PBS's "First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty" (8 p.m. Tuesday, WQED-TV) takes a look back at the religious rights America's founding fathers intended through a mix of dramatic recreation -- filmed in Colonial Williamsburg and elsewhere, mostly along the East Coast in historic, colonial settings -- and interviews with contemporary historians.

The 90-minute documentary begins in 1630 and advances through the years to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and drafting of the Bill of Rights.

"The great flaw in the Puritan experiment was the inability to allow serious dissent," says narrator Brian Stokes Mitchell. "But democracy in the 1600s seldom extended to faith. It would take another century to carve out the great American achievement of religious freedom. It would take a revolution."

While the notions of religious freedom and separation of church and state may seem like topics out of a musty history book, look no further than the most recent presidential election to see how the topic remains relevant. As I went to watch "First Freedom," a tweet on my Twitter feed showed just how relevant as it linked to a WhiteHouse.gov petition that argued for stripping religious institutions of their tax-exempt status for tax code violations that involve the mixing of religion and politics.

In the film Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers and the Making of a Nation," speaks of how the founders were shaped by their time and experiences.

"It gave them a confidence and a way of seeing the world in which the individual became the primary organizing element of the society," Mr. Meacham said. "It was no longer the king and the aristocracy, it was the citizen. And the citizen drew its authority from being a creature of God."

But he also adds that it's not just about the freedom to worship.

"It's not simply the freedom to choose whether to be a Mormon or an Episcopalian or a Catholic or a Muslim," Mr. Meacham says. "It is the liberty of those not to believe."

Lee Groberg, producer/director of "First Freedom," said he always has been interested in the founding fathers and religion. …

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