Roger Williams: Freedom’s Forgotten Hero

Documentary. Running time: 45 min. Our star rating: (1-5): 4.5


This documentary resurrects the memory of the man who originated the phrase “separation of church and state.” It was not Thomas Jefferson, but Puritan Roger Williams who, faced with the oppressive theocracy of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1600’s, came up with the concept of a wall or “hedge” between the secular powers and the church.

The film gives the impressive background story to Williams’ struggle for religious liberty, beginning with Constantine’s embracing Christianity and coming up through the horrible crimes of the Inquisition and the persecution of dissenters by Protestants as well as Catholics during the Reformation.

Using actors to play Williams and his arch opponent Cotton Mather, a sort of debate is staged, each leader giving his reasons for his position. Mather was the most popular preacher of his day and seemed, with the banishment of Williams, to have won the debate, but it is the exile’s teachings that became a part of the laws of the colonies of Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas, and finally of Virginia and the new United States.

The film ends with the dedication, ironically in Massachusetts, of a statue of Roger Williams, during which Joan Brown Campbell pays stirring tribute to the man. This is a fine video not only to give due honor and recognition to “Freedom’s Forgotten Hero,” but it could be shown also to remind us of the cost of our precious heritage during a celebration of July 4th or Constitution Day.

Review, above, reprinted from the Sept. 2002 issue of Visual Parables.

Where can you find the film in Summer 2015?

Amazon sells the DVD, but also has a cheaper option if you care to stream the video from Amazon. In mid-June, the online retailer Vision Video is discounting the DVD to $5. You can also watch it on your personal computer or laptop at Vimeo.

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