First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty is a 90 minute documentary detailing the role of religion during our nation’s birth. From the arrival of the Pilgrims to the writing of the Bill of Rights, this documentary covers how independence of thought—the right to choose how to worship—was the most important and most controversial topic at that time.
The documentary does an excellent job of mixing interviews with a diverse group of experts and historians with interesting reenactments at, among other locations, local destinations such as Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Williamsburg, VA. The long quotations from historical documents are balanced well with modern interpretations and new theories.
In other words, the documentary covers important stuff and makes it as interesting as possible. And it really is exciting stuff: The birth of our nation! Our founding principles! I’m sure that some teenage viewers will roll their eyes at the thought of history being exciting, but it’s the truth: who are we if we don’t understand our roots, and the struggles that occurred from then until today? Documentaries like this one are yet another way to engage kids in history.
And First Freedom does a really good job of throwing into the script interesting little factoids to maintain the audience’s attention: Ann Hutchinson was pregnant with her 15th child when banished from the first colony for being a religious heretic. It was once illegal for Roman Catholics to enter New York City. It is as if the producers knew how often to include random facts to keep teenagers from daydreaming during the film.
We are lucky, too, to be within a drive of so many important places. Mount Vernon and Monticello are quick trips; Valley Forge, PA and Independence Hall are longer trips but still manageable. Sitting at home watching an actor playing George Washington walk along his porch is one thing, but leaning back in a rocking chair on that same porch of Mount Vernon, gazing at the Potomac like Washington must have done every morning…that is a priceless bit of education that can also be a lot of fun.
While the documentary focuses on religious freedom, it also does a great job of teaching the basics of history, and hopefully older kids will pick up on these very important lessons:
• Individuals matter. Our founding fathers were each unique and quirky in their own way. They were wise and prescient, and also very human and fallible. It was these men who had the foresight and chutzpah to create documents that would afford our country to grow and adapt to its diverse population.
• Change is inevitable. Those who first arrived—as my four year old says “the guys on the Mayflower, who arrived at that rock”—certainly had one set of values that continue to make an impression today; the founding fathers would never have guessed at the range of religion that is alive today in our country.
• Unity is possible despite differences. In the documentary, the founding fathers aimed to bring people together who had religious differences, and they succeeded. Today, other differences crop up in our kids’ lives, and they should understand that coming together is still possible.
• Living with people is a struggle. The founding fathers, greatly influenced by John Locke, realized that a social contract was a necessary part of creating a nation. Any family realizes the importance of having rules that are both flexible and firm, ones that maintain peace but also allow individuality.
If you and your family get a fraction of these lessons from this documentary, it was 90 minutes well-spent. I recommend watching this documentary when it airs on December 18th at 8pm EST. In the weeks leading up to the premiere, educational content will be made available at www.pbs.org/firstfreedom. There will be primary source documents and an educators’ guide designed for children in grades 7 through 12. The documentary is rated PG; there is a brief discussion of horse whipping and drowning but no on-screen violence.
Hopefully your family can find the time to complement the viewing with a trip to Mount Vernon. Those rocking chairs provide a mighty good view.
First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty
|Appealed to my child(ren)||yes|
|Appealed to adults||yes|
|Would watch more than once||no|
|Child appropriate content||4|
|I would purchase this product for my family||no|
|I would purchase this product as a gift||yes|
| Overall Rating
All ratings on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being highest.
Meet the Reviewer!
Kate Schwarz is a full-time mom
and wife living in Great Falls, VA.
In addition to reading to her three
small hildren, Kate runs marathons,
Crossfits, and blogs about raising
kids with books at