PBS Revelation: Network’s ‘Wall Of Separation’ Has Religious Right Genesis

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Jun 13, 2007, 3:29:01 PM6/13/07
PBS Revelation: Network’s ‘Wall Of Separation’ Has Religious Right Genesis


June 8th 2007

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

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

“…[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

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

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.

By Barry W. Lynn

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