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New PBS Documentary “First Freedom” Explores Faith of U.S. Founding Fathers & the Path to Religious Liberty in America

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

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An excellent documentary for anyone interested in our “First Freedom.”

Watch First Freedom – Preview on PBS. See more from First Freedom.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — “FIRST FREEDOM: The Fight for Religious Liberty” is a 90-minute documentary that examines how the most basic of human freedoms — freedom of conscience — was codified for the first time in human history by America’s Founding Fathers as an inalienable human right protected by law, instigating a landmark and lasting shift in human history. “FIRST FREEDOM: The Fight for Religious Liberty” airs on PBS stations nationwide on Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 8 p.m. ET (check local listings). This film uses stunning re-enactments, the Founding Fathers’ own words, and the incisive commentary of key experts to profile the lives and times of the colonial Americans who raised the ideal of religious freedom to the level of a fundamental human right. The broadcast is accompanied by a companion book and website, as well as comprehensive educational resources.

“FIRST FREEDOM” examines these provocative and historically significant issues by exploring the religious history leading up to the era of the American Revolution, key debates on the intersection of religion and governance, and the Founding Fathers’ personal beliefs about religion. It details the progression of religious liberty from Pilgrims and Puritans to the creation of the Bill of Rights and how it shaped a new nation, guaranteeing religious freedom for its citizens and establishing a free marketplace for religion in the United States. A government without the interlocking authority of religion was utterly unprecedented in Western history and within a generation of its creation, it produced a vibrant religious culture still unmatched anywhere in the world. “FIRST FREEDOM” also explores with scholars, historians and writers the contemporary tests of religious freedom, current interpretations, and the lasting legacy of the Constitutional guarantees.

The film draws on the expertise of today’s most respected authorities on the subject of faith and American history, including on-camera interviews with the following individuals:

  • Douglas Brinkley, project scriptwriter, professor of history at Rice University and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair
  • Forrest Church (1948–2009), writer, historian and pastor of All Souls Church, Manhattan. Author of So Help Me God; The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle Over Church and State
  • John Hope Franklin (1915–2009), author of the seminal From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans, Professor Emeritus,DukeUniversity, and 1996 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • Jon Meacham, former Editor-In-Chief, Newsweek Magazine, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nationand American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House
  • Cokie Roberts, senior news analyst for NPR News, where she was the congressional correspondent for more than 10 years, and political commentator for ABC News

“FIRST FREEDOM” examines how the Founders’ religious backgrounds and beliefs shaped the lasting hallmarks of American society: religious freedom and the separation of church and state. A driving force in this narrative are the words of the actual Founders themselves — including George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin and Samuel and John Adams — which have been preserved through private letters and public documents. The film also features earlier figures whose lives shaped the multifaceted religious era the Founding Fathers lived in — such as John Winthrop, leader of the first group of Puritans to leave England in 1629; Anne Hutchinson, a member of that Puritan colony who in 1638 was placed on trial for heresy for her religious meetings; William Penn, a Quaker who in 1682 founded Pennsylvania, establishing a law forbidding prejudice against any person based on their religious faith, as long as they had religious faith; and George Whitefield, an English Evangelical preacher who was as the center of a religious revival that began in the early 1740s. To bring to life these experiences, “FIRST FREEDOM” features historical re-enactments filmed at the following sites:

  • Virginia: Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, George Washington’s Mt. Vernon Estate, Historic Christ Church and Colonial Williamsburg
  • Pennsylvania:Valley Forge, Independence Hall and Carpenters’ Hall
  • Massachusetts: The restored Puritan village of Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth
  • England: Sempringham and London
Read more about this program here.