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NEW PBS DOCUMENTARY “FIRST FREEDOM” EXPLORES FAITH OF U.S. FOUNDING FATHERS & THE PATH TO RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN AMERICA

How Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and Others Set a New Course for Faith and Politics, Film Airs December 18

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.  The film 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, Duke University, 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 Nation and 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

“FIRST FREEDOM” includes engaging educational resources at www.pbs.org/firstfreedom. This website allows users to further study the history and themes presented in the film as they explore expanded content, video clips, resources and more in an interactive environment.  For educators, the site contains materials, educational lessons, discussion questions and activities designed to help teachers use the story of “FIRST FREEDOM: The Fight for Religious Liberty” to engage students in multi-media classroom projects.
 
Additionally, “FIRST FREEDOM” includes a companion book with the same title, authored by Randall Balmer, Lee Groberg and photographer Mark Mabry.  FIRST FREEDOM: The Fight for Religious Liberty explores the history represented in the film with primary texts and rich photographic illustrations. The companion book will be available for purchase at www.ShopPBS.org.

For more information about “FIRST FREEDOM: The Fight for Religious Liberty,” visit www.pbs.org/firstfreedom.  An electronic press kit, including downloadable photos for promotional use, a complete list of interviewed experts, and a quote sheet of the Founding Fathers’ words from the film, is available at pressroom.pbs.org.

“FIRST FREEDOM: The Fight for Religious Liberty” is a production of Groberg Films, Inc. in association with WETA Washington, D.C.  The executive producers are Dalton Delan and Jim Corbley of WETA.  Produced and directed by Lee Groberg of Groberg Films.  Written by Julie Fenster, Douglas Brinkley and Ken Chowder.  Narrated by Brian Stokes Mitchell.  Chief cinematography and editing by Mark Goodman.  Music by Sam Cardon.  Funding is provided by The GFC Foundation, The Annenberg Foundation, The Larry H. and Gail Miller Family Foundation, The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, The One Foundation, Garfield and Margo Cook, The Sorenson Legacy Foundation, The Brent and Bonnie Jean Beesley Foundation, Bill and Roceil Low, The Alan and Jeanne Hall Foundation, Dixie and Bud Stoddard, The George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, Jeanne and Wayne Quinton, Glenn and Mary Potter, and The Legacy Films Foundation.

WETA Washington, D.C., is the third-largest producing station for public television.  WETA’s other productions and co-productions include “PBS NewsHour,” “Washington Week with Gwen Ifill and National Journal,” “The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize” and documentaries by filmmaker Ken Burns, including the premiere November 18 and 19 of “The Dust Bowl.”  Sharon Percy Rockefeller is president and CEO of WETA.  More information on WETA and its programs and services is available at www.weta.org.  

Groberg Films, Inc. is led by Lee Groberg, an award-winning filmmaker with over 20 years experience in the production of historical television documentaries.  Groberg Films has a growing list of accolades from the film and television industry, including the George Washington Medal of Honor and first place wins at various international film festivals. Credits include “SWEETWATER RESCUE; The Willie and Martin Handcart Story” (2006), “AMERICA’S CHOIR; The Story of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir” (2005), “SACRED STONE; Temple on the Mississippi” (2003), and  “AMERICAN PROPHET; The Story of Joseph Smith” (1999) and “TRAIL OF HOPE; The Story of the Mormon Trail” (1997).  More information about Groberg Films is available at www.grobergfilms.com.

PBS, with its 356 member stations, offers all Americans — from every walk of life — the opportunity to explore new ideas and new worlds through television and online content.  Each month, PBS reaches more than 123 million people through television and more than 21 million people online, inviting them to experience the worlds of science, history, nature and public affairs; hear diverse viewpoints; and take front row seats to world-class drama and performances.  PBS’ broad array of programs has been consistently honored by the industry’s most coveted award competitions.  Teachers of children from pre-K through 12th grade turn to PBS for digital content and services that help bring classroom lessons to life.  PBS’ premier children’s TV programming and Web site, pbskids.org, are parents’ and teachers’ most trusted partners in inspiring and nurturing curiosity and love of learning in children.  More information about PBS is available at www.pbs.org, one of the leading dot-org Web sites on the Internet.

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Kate Kelly
kkelly@weta.org