Watch “The Lord is Not on Trial Here Today” Documentary Trailer

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Her neighbors called her “that awful woman” after she sued her 10-year-old son’s school in the historic case that established the separation of church and state in public schools. The year was 1945 and Vashti McCollum, a young Illinois mother, gave permission for her son to attend religion class at his school. But when she saw the course materials she was shocked: “It was indoctrination into the old Christian faith,” she remembered. “So I said never again.”

Jim sat out the class for the rest of the term — he was the only student to do so — at a desk in the hallway usually reserved for punishment. Jim endured brutal bullying for his mother’s decision. One day he came home in tears and Mrs. McCollum decided to do something about it.

Jay Rosenstein’s documentary, The Lord is Not on Trial Here Today, recounts what McCollum later described as “three years of headlines, headaches and hatred,” and the dramatic legal maneuverings that led to a decision that shocked the nation and made the McCollums a household name.

The window for viewing the full documentary has unfortunately expired, but you can watch the trailer below.

For more information about The Lord Is Not on Trial Here Today visit the Jay Rosenstein Productions website.

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  • Herb Neu

    This is a brilliant and courageous documentary. It is something that all ideologues need to view and ponder.

  • Lew Matthews

    Thank you, Vashti McCollum

  • Anonymous

    Amazing what one person can do. Extremely interesting documentary, thanks for posting.

  • Andrea

    Where does the idea that Natzi’s were atheist’s come from? This is what Hitler made Germans forces swear in 1933 “I swear by God this holy oath, that I want to offer unconditional obedience to the Führer of the German Reich and people, Adolf Hitler, the commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht, and be prepared as a brave soldier to risk my life for this oath at any time.” In stark comparison to the oath sworn from 1919 to 1933 with no mention of God. “I swear loyalty to the Reich’s constitution and pledge, that I as a courageous soldier always want to protect the German Reich and its legal institutions, (and) be obedient to the Reichspräsident and to my superiors.”

  • Robert

    People still think this today. To them “evil,” means godless and so the Nazis become atheists and not neo-Christian/neo-Pagan as Nazis were.

    And thank you for posting this. I was looking forward to watching this film after I saw the program about Creationism. Great film, a very important story. What a wonderful woman she was. She has my gratitude.

  • proud atheist..

    Inspirational story from a woman seemingly lost in history… Take the time and watch…

  • Lisa McCarville

    wow wonderful story! thanks for posting this!

  • wyocowboy

    this was a great historical time in American life…though the religious don’t think so but those of us that are non-religious it IS!

  • Foxmill

    Read this :-

    It is a bit ambiguous. Churches in Germany abound. If Hitler were an atheist he did not want to be rejected by those that were Christians and have the Church interfere with is plans for Germany so he remained tolerant of religions within his armies.
    He may have had plans to change this of course in due time but we have no defining proof of it.

  • Grey

    There is no question that, whether a true believer or not, Hitler used Christian faith as a major platform. You only have to go as far as a Google image search to find crosses and religious text all over Nazi “artifacts”, such as having “Gott Mit Uns” (God’s with us) engraved on buttons and belt buckles.There are plentiful quotes from Hitler proclaiming a deep love of God and Christ. I don’t think it’s ambiguous at all.

  • Rennie

    My father filed a court case in Norfolk, Va. around 1947 for the same instances. It went to a certain point, but then his lawyer’s research found that the other case was going forward to the U.S. Supreme Court as it was a better case for the purpose. My father thought it caused him major problems.

  • Vivian Parker

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • Thomas J. Lawson

    Unfortunately, the court’s decision opened the door to the same type of class being offered during non-school hours, either right before school or right after, which again does not make it voluntary when your child is the only child not participating.

    I invite everyone to look into the Good News Club…

  • Kristen

    Thank you so much for making this documentary available. I found it courageous as well as inspiring. The ending piece about these sorts of decisions going from shocking to ho-hum (“of course”) is telling. There are so many examples of that. Fascinating film!

  • A.O.W.M.

    Thanks for mentioning this. Putting words in God’s mouth has been far too common for centuries, just as is the propensity of the opposing side to call the other ‘atheist.’ I find it interesting as well, given Hitler’s massive ego, that he would accept shared billing in the oath you quote with a Supreme Being; for my own part, I’ll stick with bob Dylan’s lyric: “If God’s on our side, he’ll stop the next war.” Oh, yes: well done, Ms. McCollum!

  • Fiona Mackenzie

    You do realize, do you not, that the separation of church and state was established in the first amendment? Everything else has been simply harassment of those who dare to exercise any constitutional right except waving guns around and killing people.

  • Matthew Sterling

    What happened to the ending? Video stops at 56 minutes before the final decision is announced.

  • Joslyn Stevens

    and it will air on my bday. Cant wait. What a brave woman.

  • Fiona Mackenzie

    Not exactly. Hitler was a devout Catholic as were all but one of his inner circle. His proud photographs as leader and dictator were frequently taken with Catholic priests and high officials (they are still extant) smiling, laughing, clearly “best buds,” and sometimes on the steps of cathedrals.

    He cut his deal with the Catholic church before he began the holocaust: he would protect their churches and cathedrals from being molested or burned, and they would support and not speak out against the holocaust. They kept their bargain so well that many parish priests took it on themselves to identify for Hitler’s storm troopers jewish families in their parishes, who were then removed to concentration camps.

    Make all the excuses you want, but that’s the truth of what happened..

  • Fiona Mackenzie

    They are not “ho-hum” today. In a resurgence of religion, always a useful tool in controlling the proletariat we are becoming, we are walking again over much of this same ground. In fact, Bill Moyers has devoted a couple of his most recent programs to the topic. If you care about separation of church and state, please go to Americans United at their website ( or read their periodicaly (Church&State). The struggle to preserve the First Amendment is flaring particularly as Waltons, DeVos, Prince in MI and others in other states devote hundreds of millions of dollars of their personal money to end public education and replace public schools with voucher schools.

    In Michigan, the voucher schools are fundamentalist with emphasis on “obedience and submission.” In Washington, D.C., 80% of the publicly supported funds given to voucher schools go directly to the Catholic church–masses of tax money flooding into the church.

    Moyers understands how poverty and fear arouse religious tyranny; I only hope people are listening.

  • Fiona Mackenzie

    Please don’t miss Moyers’ March 1, 2013, program about the heroic 19-year-old activist Zack Kopplin’s struggle to keep creationism out of public school curricula.

  • Pat


  • Rick Woosley

    This woman had true courage. It’s unfortunate that there aren’t more people like her in the world.

  • Steve Honeycutt

    A remarkable lady.

  • Steve Honeycutt

    It’s given just after the 49:30 mark

  • Joan S

    Thank you for an extraordinarily inspiring film! Such courage and perseverance! Ms. McColllum and her family have given so much to this country and I am grateful. Seeing this film reminded me of my experience when my family moved from New York State to Leonia, N.J., in 1958 (after the Supreme Court’s McCollum decision). My eighth grade homeroom class, as did all homerooms in the high school, started out every day with a student reading a passage from the Bible, leading the class in the saying of the Lord’s Prayer, and standing for the pledge of allegiance. My family was not religious. I had never been exposed to any of this at home, and my public school in New York State did none of this. I had no idea what was going on on my first day. I ran home after school and asked my mother what the class was mumbling, and she figured it out that it was the Lords Prayer. Wanting desperately to fit into my new school, I learned how to mumble, read passages from Ecclesiastes (which appeared to me non-denominational), and appear to be pledging allegiance to the flag. But I felt sickened every morning to be starting the school day in this completely alien way. I don’t know if Christianity is still imposed in schools in this way, or if this is no longer permitted. These activities have no place in public schools or in schools that are in any way financed by tax dollars.

    Thank you again for continuing to bring voice to this remarkable story and, to you Bill, for making it available on my favorite program.

  • Connie Williams

    They may have given reverence to God, but Hitler was their Fuhrer, or Father. He was idolized and deified. With Hitler’s history, I would not want to believe in his God anyway~!

  • Holt

    Führer means ‘leader’ in German. The word has since been replaced with Leiter for what should be obvious reasons. The German word for father is “Vater” or “Pater” and was before, during and after the war.

  • Zainab Laurie Vanhorn-ali

    Thanks Bill for adding to my education every day. It was brave of them as a couple to risk so much to stand out for what they believed.

  • Mary Hue

    Perseverance furthers and patience is a virtue… shame on those that claim religious lives that persecuted the McCollum family because of their beliefs. Keep religion out of politics and education. Churches should be taxed for all the influence they like to control over others, pay to play your faith I say!!!!

  • Fed Up

    It’s hard for me to believe it is 2013 and this very issue is being played out in the Douglas County School District (DCSD) in Douglas County, Colorado, The DCSD Board of Education (BOE) has introduced a voucher program that will allow families to use public tax dollars to partially fund a private education at one of 23 participating private schools. 22 of those 23 schools are religious schools. There is a lawsuit filed by multiple parties to shut down this voucher program. It’s on it’s way to the Colorado Supreme Court. This BOE has vowed to take the argument all the way to the US Supreme Court There is a groundswell of support from unhappy parents, teachers and citizens to replace this BOE as soon as possible and to kill the voucher program. While the BOE campaigns are being funded by the usual Education Reform deep pockets, parents are picketing, organizing and promoting the end of this BOE to their fellow citizens. The voucher program must be eliminated.

  • Joyce Michelin

    It’s interesting that, with the entire program, so much focus on Hitler resulted! Whether you believe in an organized religion, or none, the fact is that politicians & charlatans alike throughout history, have used religious fervor to mobilize & lock in support and loyalty for their own designs. It always works. It is, both, why we travelled to America, & it’s why ‘the wall’ was placed into the fabric that is America.
    How I would have loved to hear the discourse in those Supreme Court halls as the judges rose to their votes! We will never know the courage it took. Thanks to the family, & thanks again, Bill, for the exposure.

  • Sue Gibson

    Thank you for the opportunity, Bill!! Vashti is a new shero for me. I hope to see the video
    again someday with closed captioning.

  • Gwen Andrix

    Every belt buckle of the German Army said Gott Mit Uns or God with us. there is plenty of material out there talking about the Deutsche Christen and the complicity of the German churches and Catholic Church in the Nazi movement

  • Nancy Fraser

    Loving Vashti and her wonderful sons. Great documentary. To paraphrase her supportive husband’s words:
    “Now she [Vashti} belongs to the world.”

  • Ronald Macklin

    My extreme thanks to Vashti McCollum, Mr Rosenstein, and of course Mr. Moyers. Finally, after learning that the “public concept” of, and legal declaration, of separation between church and state occurred less than a year before I was born, I was moved to say thank God it happened then! The supreme court of 1948 apparently enacted and upheld laws for the common good, instead of for the moneyed few or special interests. Todays court, (with a few exceptions,) is just not capable of such
    brave and noble action.

  • L. Lundquist

    Interesting listening to kids saying the Pledge of Allegiance at about
    the 7:50 minute point. They end it, “and to the republic for which it
    stands, one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” No
    “under God.”

  • Wham

    However, the Nazis forbade religious teaching in their schools, and
    suppressed the monastic schools that competed with these schools, among
    several other anti-religious acts, as Cambridge Professor Richard Evans’
    “The Third Reich in Power” details.

    It is true that he made
    PUBLIC deals and utterances, such as the Concordat with the Catholic
    Church, and many religiously-themed speeches and writings during the
    runup to the taking of Austria. However, since the Nazis’ support in
    Austria relied largely upon the Catholic populace in the countryside,
    rather than cosmopolitan and religiously diverse Vienna, there is little
    surprise in that.

    Hitler was a politician; in his politics, he
    was a habitual liar, when it served to court the supporters he
    targeted. Plainly, these supporters were largely Protestant and
    Catholic worshippers.

  • Wham

    Hitler did not invent the “Gott mit Uns” slogan. It originated with Prussian royalty, over a century before Hitler, and was on German Army belt buckles for many decades before Hitler. Hitler merely allowed them to keep it.

    I agree that Hitler did USE Christianity as a political tool; however, his own SS, which was a much closer reflection of Nazi ideals than the Army, had a different motto: “Meine Ehre heisst Treue,” “My Honor is Loyalty,” not mentioning God at all. (See above for other posts, addressing other aspects of this question.)

    I think that the question of his religious beliefs is ambiguous, and really, irrelevant; if the contention is “religion can be used to justify mass atrocities,” surely there are plenty (a few of them in the very video above) to show that, of whom no such ambiguity exists.

  • Wham

    Andrea, well the key to it is that Hitler was, above all, a _politician,_ and one who lied far more than even a normal politician does, for cynical, self-serving ends.

    During the first years of Hitler’s rule, he had to court the religious, because he was preparing to unite with Catholic Austria, which contained many religious Nazi supporters (while many there who DIDN’T support the Nazis were either more irreligious, or Jewish). So of course he would court the religious with public speeches.

    Meanwhile, however, he closed monastic religious schools, and his school officials also suppressed religious teaching, shortly after the annexation of Austria, so he was making nice “I stand for traditional religious values” speeches with one hand, while suppressing religion with the other.

    You are correct that he introduced God to the loyalty oath that the _Wehrmacht_ swore to him; however, what of the SS (which was far closer to a personal army for Hitler, originally created expressly as a bodyguard for the Nazi Party and for Hitler himself)? Neither their motto, nor their oath, mentioned God at all. Surely if Hitler and the Nazis had been advancing religion, they would have made their own SS toe the same line?

    The historical record is not conclusive about Hitler’s feelings about religion, though some of his public speeches and writing support it.

  • Sandy Palmer

    Thanks to the whole McCollum family and all who supported them in Vashti’s commitment to justice. And thanks Bill for access to a great history lesson that brought both tears and joy. My state court is currently deciding a case of whether state tax dollars can be used by students to attend religious private school so this issue continues to be relevant.

  • Annie Stratton

    Thank you. I am glad I got to see this tribute to Mrs.M’Collum. My mother was an admirer of hers. It took another six years for this case to impact the small Oregon town my parents moved to in the early 50s. Religious classes with a fundamental leaning were given at my elementary school. All children were required to attend unless parents signed a release explaining why. I did not want to attend the classes, and my mother was as upset as Mrs. M’Collum. Some parents withdrew their children. My mother, with others fought. Thanks to Mrs. M’Collum’s tenacity, the fight was easily won and closed down within months. Thank you for this fine film, and for honoring someone who deserves far wider recognition. It’s not about atheism, it’s about freedom from compulsory religion, as the writers of the Constitution intended,

  • Constitution Is Real

    It seems that you wish to impose your own will not a democratic one. The Supreme Court justices should not impose their own individual ideals onto Constitutional interpretation. It is for the people and the legislative body to do justice.

  • David Whitson

    Hitler reportedly took Roman Catholic communion at the bunker in Berlin before committing (murder/?)suicide with his wife, Eva.

  • Chris Ritchie

    I had a long comment here, but decided just to post as a blog article. Click on my name if you want to read my take on what is really going on. Read to the end. You’ll be surprised.