PBS Revelation: Network's 'Wall Of Separation' Has Religious Right Genesis
Barry W Lynn printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Jun 11, 2007 at 03:08:02 PM EST
We are honored to welcome guest front pager Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. This piece is crossposted from the Wall of Separation blog.  - FC

I like PBS. I really do. So I'm deeply troubled about a church-state program being rolled out on the network  this month.

"The Wall of Separation" is a production of Boulevard Pictures, a California outfit that describes itself as "a motion picture production company committed to bringing moviegoers high-quality stories from the world's most innovative filmmakers--films that bring hope, inspire us to the good, and that show us what the human spirit can attain."

But there seems to be more there than meets the eye.

Promotional material for the program at the Boulevard Web site  suggests that it promotes a radically revisionist view of church and state.

"The Wall of Separation is a metaphor deeply embedded in the American consciousness," the company observes. "Most of us take for granted the idea that politics and religion should not be intermixed because of the heritage of The First Amendment in our understanding of freedom of religion. The No Establishment Clause has protected us from the entanglement of religion with government, and the Free Exercise Clause has secured the right for all faiths to engage in their religious practices without interference from the state. America is a religiously pluralistic culture guided by a secular government."

That sounds pretty good. But then the Boulevard promo takes a troubling turn.

"...[W]hat would surprise most Americans," it asserts, "is the discovery that this is not what the Founding Fathers of our country intended when they established our nation and wrote the Constitution and Bill of Rights. They in fact had a radically different definition of establishment and the role of religion in state and federal governments than we do today. So radical, in fact, that some say the modern understanding of the role of religion in the public square is exactly the opposite of what the Founders intended."

So Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and others among the nation's founders didn't intend a "religiously pluralistic culture guided by a secular government"? That's totally wrong and very much in keeping with the Religious Right's spin on America's founding.
We at Americans United did a little research on Boulevard Pictures, and here's what we found. Although the Web site for the film company mentions no religious or political agenda, its president is Jack Hafer, an evangelical Christian who told one interviewer that Christians have an obligation to "shape the culture" and "spread the faith." He urged Christian young people to go into the arts as "kingdom-spreaders" and as "a form of missionary service."

That doesn't sound too bad. Christians have a right to proselytize. But I don't usually expect to see proselytism on PBS.

And then there's Brian Godawa, the writer and director of "The Wall of Separation," who is an even more interesting character. Godawa did movie reviews for a time for the Chalcedon Foundation's Web site. Those of you who follow religion and politics will recognize Chalcedon as the nerve center of Christian Reconstructionism, the most militant wing of the Religious Right. Godawa also was a featured speaker at the American Vision's "2006 Worldview Super Conference," a Reconstructionist event.

Reconstructionists detest democracy and hope to usher in a fundamentalist Christian theocracy in America based on their reading of biblical law. They are best known for seeking to impose the harshest penalties of the Old Testament penal code: the death penalty, for example, for gays, adulterers, fornicators, witches, incorrigible teenagers and those who spread false religions.

I don't know if Godawa calls himself a Reconstructionist - his reviews have been removed from Chalcedon's Web site -- but his perspective is definitely pretty far out.
His Chalcedon review of the critically acclaimed movie, "Brokeback Mountain," calls it "a brilliant piece of subversive homosexual propaganda." By depicting gay men as "manly" instead of "fey queens," he said, "It's the normalization of the freakish minority." He charged that "homosexualism" is "an ideology and religion whose goal is to overthrow the Christian paradigm of morality."

Godawa added, "Society SHOULD suppress immoral behavior and it does so on many fronts. So if homosexualism is immoral, then yes, it should be suppressed, just like child molesting, its ugly step-brother hidden in the closet, just like adultery, just like promiscuity."

Tell us what you really think, Brian!

Godawa praised Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" and urged Christians to see the movie in droves in the first two weeks - "Don't go by yourself, get a group of friends. And don't go just once, go twice."- so other studios would "sit up and take notice."

He dismissed criticism of the film's anti-Semitic undercurrent. "[T]he accusations are vacuous," he said. "In fact, they are more revealing of the attackers' state of the heart than the filmaker's work of art." He blasted as "slanderous" the criticism from Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League that the film unambiguously portrays Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob as responsible for the decision to crucify of Jesus.

"Foxman, and others like him, appear to be more concerned about cultivating their own preconceived cultural history than historical accuracy. Damn the facts, full speed ahead. Imagine the Jewish activist outrage that would occur if an Egyptian leader said about the film `The Ten Commandments,' `The film unambiguously portrays Egyptian authorities and the Egyptian mob as the ones responsible for the decision to enslave Jews.' Well, if the sandal fits." (Godawa later says the Romans were responsible too.)

I wish I could say PBS had the wool pulled over its eyes about this, but I can't. I wrote to officials there about our concerns March 16, 2006, and got a letter back six days later saying "The Wall of Separation" is "neither currently distributed by PBS, nor have we received a proposal from Gummshoe Productions to consider it for distribution." (Gummshoe was the name Shafer and Godawa were operating under back then.)

When Godawa continued to tell fans that PBS was going to distribute the program, I wrote to PBS again. My March 30, 2007, letter asked again what's going on. This time, the news wasn't so good. In an April 18 response, PBS Vice President John F. Wilson conceded that the program "was submitted, reviewed and accepted for distribution through PBS Plus, a service that provides stations with programs they may schedule locally to supplement the PBS primetime national schedule."  Wilson defended the decision to promote the program as serving "our mandate to present a diversity of viewpoints on issues of public importance." He said the PBS letter denying involvement came before "Wall of Separation" had been submitted to PBS.

Maybe so. But Godawa had been crowing about PBS involvement with the project long before the 2006 PBS letter to us. If he knew they were going to pick the program up, why didn't they know it?

The "diversity of viewpoints" argument doesn't wash either. This project smacks of covert Religious Right propaganda, not a forthright contribution to the national dialogue.

None of us at Americans United has seen "The Wall of Separation;" PBS declined to share a copy with us. So we can't say for sure that it's all bad. But many signs indicate that it may be an intentionally warped and inaccurate view of the role of religion in our nation's founding.

Ironically, the program apparently includes clips of interviews with me and distinguished constitutional law professor Erwin Chemerinsky. Chemerinsky and I are featured on the Boulevard Web site's trailer. (Comments from ACLU President Nadine Strossen are reportedly on the program, too.) Since we haven't seen "The Wall of Separation," we aren't sure of the source of the clips or their context. (I do lots of interviews with would-be documentarians.) But this makes it all the more imperative that civil liberties advocates not regard the "The Wall of Separation" as something endorsed by me and other church-state separationists.

PBS, I'm afraid you've let me down. I'll still watch "Teletubbies," but it just won't be the same.

It's good to see you post here.  PBS has an obligation to the public to determine whether this "documentary" is legit.  Considering the pressure the CPB has been under during the Bush administration on so many issues, the public has reason for concern about stealth evangelism.

by Rusty Pipes on Mon Jun 11, 2007 at 07:54:51 PM EST
I visited the Boulevard before finishing Mr. Lynn's post. It made me go cold, with fear. What has happened to the wonderful PBS that grew up with me? Next to my father's liberalism, PBS helped shape me into the woman I am today. All I can say is, "Damn you, George Bush and all the theocons!"

by Naomi on Mon Jun 11, 2007 at 11:22:48 PM EST

Good way to make me reconsider future donations, PBS....

by Bex on Tue Jun 12, 2007 at 09:27:34 PM EST

Anyone remember the program which aired on PBS in 2002 titled Rediscovering George Washington? I did a quick search and found the related lesson plan offered at the PBS website: Rediscovering George Washington:  George Washington and Religious Liberty":

Another way that citizens will learn about the moral qualities of citizenship is through schooling. The Northwest Ordinance (passed by the same Congress that drafted and passed the First Amendment), the first federal law governing the western territories, provided that "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." In other words, one of the purposes of schools, including public schools, is to promote morality. And one of the most important ways it would do that was to promote religion.  (snip)

Given the importance of religion to Washington and the other Founders, it is difficult to understand the common view today. That view suggests that government should merely tolerate but never support or promote religion. Nothing could be further from the intentions of the Founders, as can be seen by simply looking at the First Amendment. (snip)

But when Jefferson wrote of the "wall of separation between church and state," he did not mean that religion must be kept entirely out of politics, or law. If he had meant that, he would have violated the "wall of separation" at the very time he declared it.

by Vesica on Wed Jun 13, 2007 at 12:35:27 PM EST

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