Winner 2010

The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today

Jay Rosenstein Productions

The debate over allowing prayer and Bible reading in our schools remains contentious, yet few Americans on either side of this divisive issue remember the specific lawsuit that led to the 1948 Supreme Court decision establishing, by an 8-1 vote, the principle of separation of church and state. Vashti McCollum, a teacher’s wife and an atheist, initially sued the public school system of Champaign, Illinois, where she had sons enrolled, because school-day time and facilities were being used for religious instruction. The classes were voluntary, but McCollum’s boys were subjected to ostracism and taunting for not attending. She objected, and she refused to give up after the school board and then the state’s highest court ruled against her. Along the way, she was threatened with hellfire and branded a communist by opponents. The Illinois legislature attempted to bar atheists from teaching school. The Lord Is Not on Trial Here Today, which recalls the case and puts it into context, was locally produced by Jay Rosenstein and originally broadcast by Champaign’s public TV station, WILL. It’s a network-quality documentary, evocatively illustrated with photographs of the McCollums and their deceptively tranquil post-war times, and annotated by a wide range of interviewees, including McCollum, unapologetic at 92. For vividly reminding viewers how a still-controversial Constitutional issue came to be decided, The Lord Is Not on Trial Here Today receives a Peabody Award.


Producer: Jay Rosenstein. Director: Jay Rosenstein. Writer: Jay Rosenstein. Narrator: David Ogden Stiers. Editor: Jude Leak. Photographer: Jay Rosenstein.