>> Tonight, a special presentation from American Experience and Frontline.
>> NARRATOR: Tonight, God in America concludes the story of how the quest for religious liberty shaped American society and public life.
>> That noble idea passed on from generation to generation, the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free... >> We've had this notion that this is a special place and what makes it special is that we have some kind of special relationship with God.
>> NARRATOR: This is the dramatic history of the struggle for faith and freedom, rewritten by war, by politics and by spiritual imagination.
>> After World War II, religion and politics are going to be closer and closer intertwined.
>> NARRATOR: It is the story of how preachers and politicians used religion in the fight against Communism... >> We cannot last in our battle with Communism unless we have a spiritual revival.
>> NARRATOR: ...how some Americans struggled to be free from belief... >> The Supreme Court is saying that atheists have the same protections that other minorities have.
>> NARRATOR: ...how civil rights leaders used faith to fuel their movement, fusing Biblical and political ideals... >> We are not wrong in what we are doing.
If we are wrong, the Constitution is wrong.
If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong.
>> NARRATOR: ...how conservative evangelicals found their political voice... >> I know that you can't endorse me, but I want you to know that I endorse you.
>> They began to see it as a way to win elections.
We began to see it as a way to make our country a better moral place.
>> NARRATOR: And how immigration and spiritual innovation created a vibrant, competitive religious marketplace.
>> You can't divorce faith from the American experience.
It really is our historical and cultural DNA.
>> NARRATOR: It is the story of the quest for truth, faith and power in the most religiously diverse nation on earth.
>> We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.
>> NARRATOR: It is a complex history full of surprises and insights, a fresh and challenging journey through the American story.
Tonight, the conclusion of God in America.
>> NARRATOR: In the decades following World War II, America would grapple with a question as old as the nation itself-- the relationship between religion and politics.
>> I think we've always had a flirtation between religion and politics in American life from the very beginning, from even before the founding of the republic.
But what you get after World War II is really a marriage between the two, where religion and politics are going to be closer and closer intertwined.
>> NARRATOR: During the economic and political upheavals of the 1930s and '40s, the American religious landscape had shifted.
Church attendance had slowed during the years of the Great Depression.
The end of World War II promised a return to normalcy.
But the jubilation was short-lived.
A Cold War with the Soviet Union ushered in a new age of anxiety.
As it confronted Communism, America would undergo a religious revival.
Faith would be linked with patriotism, launching an epic struggle over the nation's political and religious identity.
>> What's at stake is the religious narrative of America.
How central is religion to the American story and what is the story that integrates religion and American politics?
That's very much up for grabs.
>> NARRATOR: In the fall of 1949, Billy Graham, a little-known preacher who would become a primary engine of America's Cold War religious revival, took his crusade to Los Angeles.
>> When he went to Los Angeles, he had just come from a couple of meetings that by his own judgment were unsuccessful.
He had been in Baltimore.
He had been in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and these revival meetings, at best, represented mixed success.
And in his own mind, he questioned his own vocation as an evangelist.
>> NARRATOR: In Los Angeles, Graham staged his revival in a tent in the heart of downtown, unsure how many people would come to hear his message.
>> Now today in America, we find that people are more concerned with things than they are with the things of God.
They're more concerned with pleasure, more concerned with money, more concerned with the things of life than they are the things of Almighty God.
>> He's looking at L.A. and he's saying, you know, "This is like sin city.
"This is the place of prostitution and the place "of drunkenness and the place of fantasy, "in terms of Hollywood, right?
And we need to turn this around."
( explosion ) >> NARRATOR: Just as the Los Angeles crusade began came news that stunned the nation.
>> Much sooner than Americans had thought possible, the Soviet Union tested successfully an atomic bomb.
And now the world was on the brink of nuclear holocaust.
And Americans were filled with fear.
School kids had drills, getting under their desk in the event of an atomic attack.
People built atomic shelters.
I mean, this was something that was real and it heightened this sense that we need to turn back to God.
>> I believe this sincerely from the depths of my heart.
>> NARRATOR: In the Soviet threat, Graham found a powerful new religious message.
>> Every time I've been to Europe, I've been more conscious than ever before that unless the Western world has an old fashion revival, we are done for.
We cannot last, we cannot stand the tremendous strain and stress of future days in our battle with Communism unless we have a spiritual revival.
>> He framed the Cold War as a moral conflict.
It is evil versus good.
It is godless Communism versus a God-fearing America.
>> I believe today that the battle is between Communism and Christianity, and I believe the only way we're going to win that battle is for America to turn back to God and back to Christ and back to the Bible at this hour.
We need a revival!
>> NARRATOR: Graham's message caught the attention of media baron William Randolph Hearst, a staunch anti-Communist.
>> Hearst likes Graham's anti-Communist rhetoric and he instructs his newspapers to "puff Graham"-- two of the most famous words in all of American religious history.
And this really rockets Graham onto the national stage.
>> Within a matter of days, stories were carried in Life magazine, Look magazine, Time.
And the stories went around the world.
>> If you look at the rise of Billy Graham in the 1950s, it's the rise that one usually thinks of in relation to pop music stars.
His ascendancy was akin to that of the Beatles.
>> Now, at 37, Billy Graham is the most famous evangelist in the world, and his power of persuasion has softened the skeptics who used to call him, "The hot gospeller from the Bible Belt, the Barrymore of the Bible."
In between his long tours, Billy Graham goes home for a few days of seclusion with his wife Ruth and their four children.
>> Over here, Bunny.
Ed, this is Bunny over here to my left.
Would you say hello to Mr. Murrow?
>> Hello, Mr. Murrow.
>> Hello, Bunny.
>> He becomes a spokesperson for the national culture in a way that blends Christianity and patriotism in an appealing way for a lot of people.
>> NARRATOR: As Graham became a national celebrity, he tried to expand the appeal of his religious revival by building relationships with those in political power.
>> In the 1952 campaign, it somehow emerged that Dwight Eisenhower himself had never been baptized, and he was confronted with this in the course of the campaign.
And his response was something to the effect that, "Well, I've been pretty busy lately.
As soon as things settle down I'll get around to it."
>> Graham advised him, you know, "You really should settle on a denomination," and the two of them had a conversation back and forth.
Mamie Eisenhower had been a Presbyterian, and Graham eventually said, you know, "Presbyterian, great denomination.
Why don't you think about becoming a Presbyterian?"
And within two weeks of being sworn in as president, Dwight Eisenhower was baptized, confirmed and became a communicant of the Presbyterian church.
>> Graham thought that if he could convert certain well-known individuals, that that would have a greater effect in terms of bringing others into the kingdom; that would make the Gospel more palatable to others.
>> NARRATOR: As president, Eisenhower invoked faith as a weapon against Communism, just as Billy Graham had done.
>> It seems to me if we are going to win this fight, we have got to go back to the very fundamentals of all things.
And one of them is that we are a religious people.
Even those among us who are so, in my opinion, so silly as to doubt the existence of an Almighty, we are still members of a religious civilization.
>> You see it in the language of Dwight D. Eisenhower and in the language of Billy Graham, this sense that religion is a sign of democracy.
And they marry the two.
Very clearly, Eisenhower comes out and says that democracy is, in fact, a public expression, basically, of a deeply felt religion.
And he made a number of appeals to people to attend church.
He made clear it doesn't matter which one, that's not important, it's just go to a worship service of whatever faith you are.
This was not without effect.
By 1960, as he leaves office, church membership in the United States stood at 65%.
It'd never been that high before.
>> It was at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church that Eisenhower heard a sermon on adding the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance, and from that day forward became an advocate of including the new words.
>> I pledge allegiance to the flag... >> After Eisenhower got behind it, after it got some publicity, the public was so overwhelmingly in favor.
>> One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
>> President Eisenhower arrives at the Post Office Department in Washington for the debut of the stamp first to proclaim "In God we trust."
>> It was in that environment, with this Cold War, that Congress decided that "In God we trust" should be the new motto, reclaiming this notion that we're a chosen people, and that we were conceived under God, and that we flourish under God, and we turn our backs on God at our own peril.
>> NARRATOR: Nothing demonstrated America's merging of faith and patriotism, and the strength of its religious revival, more than Billy Graham's 1957 crusade in New York City.
>> There's a quiet little voice in your heart that says, "You better give your life to Christ.
Now is the time."
>> NARRATOR: Graham booked Madison Square Garden for a six-week campaign.
Night after night, the seats were packed and the crusade was extended.
It would last more than three months.
>> I ask you to give your life to Christ now, tonight, while there's time.
The Bible says now is the accepted time, and all the way through the Bible it's an urgent business, this business of coming to Christ.
I'm going to ask you to come and receive him right now.
What are you going to do?
( choir singing hymn ) >> Billy Graham was primarily interested in saving individuals.
The way you save the nation is to save individuals one at a time.
And if all Americans would become born-again Christians, from the Billy Graham perspective, then you would have a righteous society.
>> It's a well-organized campaign all right.
>> NARRATOR: Graham produced a film dramatizing his message that even sophisticated New Yorkers needed to 振ome to Christ.. >> I read somewhere where they're using two or three thousand voices in just the chorus.
>> Graham was especially interested in the people who are at the upper echelons of society, particularly in terms of their cultural influence.
>> Well, I think we ought to have an opinion from our charming hostess.
Mrs. Foster, what do you think of this crusade business?
>> Well, honey?
>> Well, all of your comments sound so familiar.
But last night I went to the Garden.
I knew I 'd been groping for something, but I didn't know what it was until Mr. Graham began to speak.
As he talked I had a strange feeling of need.
>> Night after night I've asked people to bring their Bibles.
I hope that many of you've brought your Bibles tonight.
>> NARRATOR: In New York, Graham preached in Times Square... >> And if it seems evil unto you... >> NARRATOR: On Wall Street... And in the crusade's biggest event, before a record-breaking crowd of over 100,000 at Yankee Stadium.
That night, the Cold War embrace between American religion and American politics was on full display as Graham shared his pulpit with Vice President Richard Nixon.
( applause ) >> One of the most basic reasons for America's progress in the past and for our strength today is that from the time of our foundation, we have had a deep and abiding faith in God.
>> Nixon in 1957, of course, is already thinking about the 1960 presidential campaign.
So, for Nixon, this was a very, very powerful moment, being aligned with none other than Billy Graham.
( applause ) >> You have preachers who draw on politics and politicians who are using religion for their own public policy reasons.
And so the sort of wall of separation of church and state that has been around as an option is going to be gradually, gradually whittled away in this period.
>> And I would say to our international problems that the principles of Christ form the only ideology hot enough to stop Communism.
When Communism conquers a nation it makes every man a slave.
When Christianity conquers a nation it makes every man a king.
And it is my prayer... >> NARRATOR: But as this Cold War convergence of faith and patriotism pervaded the country, some Americans saw it as a threat to their freedom.
One of those dissenting voices came from a non-religious family deep in the American heartland, in Champaign, Illinois.
>> Champaign was a pretty conservative community at the time.
And as a matter a fact, at that time atheism was equated with Communism, so you just didn't be an atheist in those days, or let people know.
>> NARRATOR: Beginning in the 1940s, Champaign public school students were encouraged to attend classes in religious instruction, led by a member of their faith, on school grounds.
If they chose not to, they were left to study alone in an empty room, like fifth-grader Terry McCollum.
>> We would go to the... what was called the music room with the teacher, the regular public school teacher, while the class was going on.
And there was a time when the teacher set me out in the hall at a desk, which was usually for detention purposes.
Of course I was there alone, and I didn't take to that too hot.
And my mother heard about it.
She got rather incensed about it.
My mother was not somebody looking for a fight, but you didn't mess with her, either.
>> NARRATOR: Vashti McCollum, a self-described humanist, thought the religious classes program violated her son's rights.
>> She went to see the superintendent of schools and told him she objected to the program and that she felt it was illegal and that that it was impacting badly on her son and that it should be discontinued.
Well, the school board, of course, was very much in favor of the program so there was nothing that the superintendent could do about it.
>> NARRATOR: Vashti McCollum sued the school board.
In the local Illinois court, she argued it was unconstitutional for public schools to impose religion on anyone.
She lost the case, then appealed to the state supreme court, where she lost again, and local hostility toward her family grew.
>> Well, we had a cat that was lynched.
We had things thrown at the house.
My mother answered the door one time and was deluged in a shower of garbage.
We got some really juicy hate mail.
We had a letter that was addressed simply to "that atheist woman"-- no address-- and the postal service delivered it.
>> NARRATOR: The case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices overturned the Illinois courts, and ruled for the McCollums.
The eight to one decision invoked Thomas Jefferson's interpretation that the First Amendment erected a "wall of separation" between church and state.
>> The court said that it was unconstitutional to use the machinery of the public school, to use the property of the public school, to enforce religious educational ideals of the parents, or of the children's denomination.
It said it certainly was appropriate for a child to get a religious education, but not for the government to be providing it on public school property.
>> There was a lot of hostility to that ruling, a lot of hostility.
One publication said that little Terry McCollum now has the right to go to hell.
So I don't think at that time it liberalized anything, except for the law.
>> The Supreme Court is saying, you know, this may not fit with the American narrative, with the American mythology about this as a nation ordained by God, but in terms of First Amendment protections for minorities, that atheists have the same protections that other minorities have.
>> NARRATOR: It would take a series of Supreme Court rulings over several years to more fully define the role of religion in the public schools.
>> I shall read from Psalm 111.
"Praise the Lord.
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart."
>> Schools have always been a place where we inculcated this religious sensibility and where we made the connection between Christianity and morality and citizenship.
Especially after World War II and the Cold War, with the specter of the Communists, the atheistic Communists, became really important to do religion in the public schools and not teach about religion, not world religions courses or, you know, objective Bible courses, but to pray.
>> Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
>> NARRATOR: The decisive battle over school prayer began in a New York suburb after the state recommended an official non-denominational prayer for school children to recite.
>> The New York State Board of Regents convened a group of ministers, priests and rabbis to prepare a prayer at the height of the Cold War.
And this prayer was going to inoculate children against Communism, atheism.
>> Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon thee and we beg thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.
>> Nobody questioned it.
Twenty-two words-- who could object to that?
>> NARRATOR: But opposition to the prayer did surface among several Jewish families who had recently moved to Long Island.
>> The real crux of the matter came down to one particular elementary school that most Jews went to.
>> My immediate reaction was that the state and the school board had no right to impose religion or prayers on the school children.
>> Lawrence Roth learned that his children, Dan and Joe, were forced to say prayers, that there was a statue of Jesus in one of the classrooms.
He said, "I didn't bring our family out here to endure this."
>> NARRATOR: Roth recruited dozens of parents who also objected to the prayer, and ultimately five families sued the school district.
>> The issue for all of them was fundamentally that to be an American means that you don't have to be subjected to religious ideas and practices sponsored by the state that you find objectionable.
>> NARRATOR: In court, attorneys for the parents and for the school district argued the true meaning of the First Amendment, arguments they restaged for CBS news cameras.
>> We come here in the sprit of Madison and Jefferson, in the conviction, the deep conviction, that the religious liberty not only of our clients but of all Americans lies in the principle of law set forth in the First Amendment to the Constitution, which says that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or preventing the free exercise thereof.
>> The intention at that time was to prevent the establishment of a state church, or a national church.
It was not in any way to interfere with the religious freedoms of all our people.
>> NARRATOR: In the local court, the school district won its case and then won again in the New York state appeals courts.
But when the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1962, the justices ruled six to one for the parents, banning prayer in public schools nationwide.
>> The Supreme Court said the government simply can not be in the business of providing religion.
This was ground-level constitutional decision-making affecting the way public schools across the country design education for their students.
So, this was... this was a massive change.
>> I think this decision is most deplorable, it is tragic.
I think that June 25, 1962, will go down as the blackest day in the history of the United States.
>> The school prayer decision was, in its day, the most unpopular decision the Supreme Court had ever made.
>> You know it's a terrible thing to say that you can't have prayer in the schools of this country.
Isn't the number one... one of the number one objectives of atheistic Communism the destruction of the religious and spiritual life of this country?
>> I think there's a tremendous resentment and I think that if a vote were taken in the United States it would go 80%.
It would be overwhelming to have prayer and Bible reading in the schools.
>> NARRATOR: After the ruling, the Long Island families were harassed and ostracized.
>> The Roths got thousands of hate phone calls in one week.
There were fistfights, there was even at one point a cross burning with gasoline rags near the Roths' car that nearly blew up the car, maybe the home.
It was just a stunning display of hatred.
It's one thing to say you believe in a principle, it's another thing to put your lives and your family on the line.
And not many people do that.
>> NARRATOR: As the legal battles over separation of church and state were being waged, the most important social reform movement of the 20th century was putting religious faith at the center of its political aspirations.
>> The civil rights movement had as its goal to get rid of segregation.
This is a political goal, but it was advanced very much through religious means.
And the whole thing had the feel of religion about it.
It had the feel of a revival or a religious crusade.
It was moving forward on the direction of people who understood the Biblical prophetic tradition of calling out injustice and unrighteousness in the name of God.
>> NARRATOR: At the heart of the movement was the black church, which had sustained African Americans since slavery.
>> The black church has always worked for spiritual enhancement and growth on the weekends and political up-building and improvement during the week.
>> Black ministers saw that they needed to interpret the message of Christianity to have some special meaning for those who are poor and oppressed minorities.
>> NARRATOR: In 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Martin Luther King, Jr., descended from generations of preachers, took his first job as pastor of the city's oldest black church.
>> He chose to go to Montgomery because he wanted a little quiet church where he could finish his doctoral dissertation.
And lo and behold, as soon as he sends in his doctoral dissertation, Rosa Parks sits down on the bus.
>> Rosa Parks sets him on a different course.
That once she takes her action of refusing to give up her seat on the Montgomery bus, a movement starts and he's selected to lead it.
>> NARRATOR: As the new leader of the bus boycott, King gave his first civil rights speech in a packed Montgomery church.
Just 26 years old, he laid out the central ideas that would define the movement, merging Biblical principles with the ideals of democracy.
>> We are not wrong in what we are doing.
If we are wrong the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong.
( applause ) If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong.
( applause ) If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong.
>> Martin Luther King saw America's founding documents as giving a voice, giving expression, to fundamental Biblical principles of justice and peace and equality.
"We're all equal before God," says the Bible.
"All men are created equal," says the Declaration of Independence.
And so Martin Luther King is saying, "Let's take that seriously."
>> NARRATOR: The bus boycott challenged the power structure in Montgomery.
At their home on South Jackson Street, King and his family endured death threats that shook his resolve.
>> In the middle of the night he receives a threatening telephone call.
The call says, "We are going to hurt your family, so you better just get out of town."
>> And he's sitting alone in the kitchen, and his wife and child are in the bedroom, and he is wondering, "Why did I do this?
Why did I accept this role?"
>> Lord, I must confess that I'm weak now, I'm faltering, I'm losing my courage.
>> NARRATOR: King later recounted how he sat alone in his kitchen and prayed.
>> And it seemed at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, "Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness.
Stand up for justice."
And lo I heard the voice of Jesus, saying still to fight on.
He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone; no, never alone.
>> And it's at that point he had this sense that God was with him in the struggle.
And once he goes through that crisis, I think he's really at peace with whatever is going to happen.
>> NARRATOR: Just three days later, King's house was bombed.
>> They just barely missed his baby daughter.
Coretta had just taken her back to the kitchen to get her some milk; she was three weeks old or something like that.
>> NARRATOR: After the bombing, a crowd of supporters gathered outside, eager for revenge.
>> All of the men had been to the war, and they came to Martin's house with their guns.
And he had read Gandhi by that time, and he said we've got to find another way to change America without violence.
And he sent them home with their guns.
>> We still have the attitude of love, we still have the method of passive resistance and we are still insisting emphatically that violence is self-defeating.
That he who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.
>> NARRATOR: A year later, the Supreme Court ruled that Montgomery's segregated buses were illegal-- a victory for King's strategy of non-violent resistance.
>> You began to see a way to change America without destroying America that allowed us to exercise our religion, our faith, and our fight for freedom.
>> NARRATOR: As the civil rights movement linked faith with political change, the candidacy of John Kennedy in the 1960 presidential campaign reignited the struggle over the separation of church and state.
>> As recently as 1960, we still had this fear of Catholics in America.
You had this specter of Vatican takeover of American society that people have been worried about in American history for hundreds of years before even Kennedy emerged.
>> I think life in the '60s... >> Up until Kennedy, all the presidents were Protestant.
This had been a Protestant country.
We wouldn't have said it that way, but it was.
>> This was a historic Protestant fear that a Catholic president could not possibly be uncompromised in relation to the Vatican.
>> You would be divided between two loyalties, to your church and to your state, if you were to be elected president?
>> Let me just say that I would not.
I have sworn to uphold the Constitution in the 14 years I've been in Congress, in the years I was in the service.
The Constitution provides in the First Amendment that Congress shall make no laws abridging the freedom of religion.
I must say I believe in it.
I think it is the only way this country can go ahead.
>> NARRATOR: The prospect of a Catholic in the White House alarmed Protestant supporters of Kennedy's opponent, Richard Nixon, who was closely allied with Billy Graham.
>> Richard Nixon, who Graham thinks is an exemplar of Protestant values, Christian values, Graham is very concerned about the prospect of a Roman Catholic in the White House.
And he resolves to do something about it.
But he's cagey enough to remain on the sidelines.
>> NARRATOR: As the fall campaign began, Billy Graham wrote to Kennedy assuring the candidate that rumors Graham might raise the religious issue were not true.
>> It was a very cordial, congenial letter, as you might imagine.
Eight days later, Billy Graham convenes a meeting of American Protestant ministers in Montreux, Switzerland, for the purpose of discussing how they could ensure that John Kennedy would not be elected in November.
>> NARRATOR: Behind the scenes, Graham wrote Nixon about the meeting and the group's plans, but he would keep his own role private, and not speak publicly on the Catholic issue.
>> Just after Labor Day, there was another gathering of Protestant clergy in Washington D.C. at the Mayflower Hotel.
Billy Graham was not there.
It was a closed-door meeting.
The purpose of the gathering was to sound the alarm, "That we think it is dangerous to elect a Roman Catholic as president of the United States."
>> Senator John F. Kennedy.
( applause ) >> NARRATOR: In Houston, Texas, before 300 Protestant ministers, Kennedy confronted the issue head-on, clarifying his views on church and state.
>> So it is apparently necessary for me to state, once again, not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in.
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.
Where no Catholic prelate would tell the president, should he be Catholic, how to act.
And no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote.
>> After Kennedy's election, of course, Graham wants to maintain his access to power and, in particular to the presidency.
So there's a meeting that is arranged between the two of them before Kennedy even takes office.
So, Graham already is trying to make inroads into the Kennedy administration, even though he had worked very hard to derail Kennedy's election in 1960.
>> NARRATOR: While Billy Graham pursued an insider's relationship with political power, Martin Luther King took a very different stance.
King would remain the outsider, keeping his distance from the White House, even as he pressured the new president to act on civil rights.
>> Kennedy, at this time, does not have a strong commitment to civil rights reform.
Kennedy is concerned about the Cold War and other kinds of issues.
That's where his priority is.
So he wants to keep the civil rights issue on the back burner.
>> NARRATOR: In 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama, King would launch waves of protests in the hope that images of aggressive police action might arouse the conscience of the nation and its president.
>> Billy Graham called for restraint, saying King should "put the brakes on."
When King himself was arrested, for marching without a permit, white religious leaders in Birmingham denounced him.
>> Fellow men of God are calling for him to back away.
He's creating more problems.
He's disturbing the peace.
He is bringing woes to the South.
They saw that ungodly.
And Martin Luther King was appalled.
>> So he started writing this letter from the Birmingham jail.
He wrote it around the margins of the New York Times.
And when he ran out of space he wrote on toilet tissue.
>> The letter itself is a response to the challenge of white ministers in Birmingham who had said, you know, "Why are you coming?
Why are you causing trouble in our city?"
So he has to respond to that because they're challenging him as a Christian minister and saying that, "What you're doing doesn't seem very Christian to me."
>> NARRATOR: In his letter, later published in the Atlantic Monthly, King said he was preaching "the gospel of freedom," and challenged the complacency of his fellow ministers.
>> He goes on to question the good faith of the religious leaders in the churches who are so critical of his movement.
He says, "I drive by their churches with their perfectly manicured front lawns and I ask myself, 'Who is their God?'"
>> How can someone who professes to worship a God and a savior who saw all people as being equal, who created all people equal, a Christ who died for all people, how could these servants of that God and of that Christ, do anything other than join in the fight for civil rights?
( shouting ) >> NARRATOR: The Birmingham campaign grew more violent and King's followers would find their own faith severely tested.
Memories of those moments remain vivid today.
>> When we got about two blocks from the jail, the police had blocked the street with the dogs and the fire trucks.
When we got there, they said, "You can't go to the jail."
And so everybody got down on their knees and started praying.
And when people are in that kind of situation, it's not a verbal prayer, it's more a moan.
And when emotional, scared, religious people start moaning, something happens.
And something happened not only to us, but to the police.
And somebody jumped up, a lady said, "God is with this movement, we're going on to the jail."
And we started walking directly at the police and the dogs, and all of a sudden the dogs weren't barking and we started singing, "I want Jesus to walk with me."
And when you get through and you look back, you saw all of these fire trucks blocking the street and some good little sister hollered, "Great God Almighty done parted the Red Sea one more time."
( barking ) >> NARRATOR: But the images of Birmingham police attacking young demonstrators with dogs and fire hoses had shocked the nation and built a momentum for change that would finally lead President Kennedy to propose a landmark civil rights bill.
>> It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level.
But law alone cannot make men see right.
We are confronted primarily with a moral issue.
It is as old as the Scriptures and as clear as the American constitution.
>> Kennedy says, "It's an issue as old as the Scriptures," and as old as this nation in terms of the principles underlying it.
Now, that's precisely what King has been saying, is that this is an issue that has to do with basic American values that have not been realized.
>> Throughout American history, the main story that we've gravitated toward has been the exodus story.
A people on the march with God by their side, and we've told it to ourselves as Puritans coming over to New England, as Mormons heading west across the mountains.
And it was that story that really sustained the civil rights movement.
>> Slavery was our Egypt, segregation was our Egypt, discrimination was our Egypt, and so during the height of the civil rights movement, it was not unusual for people to be singing, "Go down Moses, way on down in Egypt land and tell old pharaoh to let my people go."
And people identify with that.
>> And I think part of what gave the civil rights movement power was the idea that the story of the Bible didn't end when the Bible ends; it's still going on now.
The same activity of this God who wants freedom for his creation is inspiring Martin Luther King just as it inspired Moses.
>> When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.
>> NARRATOR: In his speech at the 1963 march on Washington, King assumed the mantle of an Old Testament prophet, indicting his country for failing to live up to its founding principles.
>> Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."
( applause ) >> Suddenly, he turns and moves away from his manuscript, almost rolls his eyes toward the heavens and says, "But I still have a dream."
>> I still have a dream.
It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream... >> From then the speech takes on an entirely different character.
The judgmental prophet, the Jeremiah, gives way to the visionary who sees a better day.
>> When we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholic, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, free at last!
Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
( cheering and applause ) >> The "I have a dream" was sort of like Lincoln's "of the people, by the people, for the people."
It was our Declaration of Independence, our declaration of freedom, and our Gettysburg address.
>> NARRATOR: The march on Washington and the passage of Kennedy's civil rights bill, pushed through Congress by President Lyndon Johnson, were triumphs for the civil rights movement.
But the next year, when they pressed Johnson for new guarantees for the right to vote, they met resistance.
>> Lyndon Johnson explained to us why we couldn't have a voting rights act.
And he was very apologetic about his powerlessness as president.
>> NARRATOR: The movement would once again decide to challenge the conscience of a president.
>> It will be detrimental to your safety to continue this march.
Go home or go to your church.
This march will not continue.
>> The power of the civil rights movement and of King, and of the strategy of nonviolent civil disobedience, was that it assumed that the opponents knew in their hearts that they were wrong.
And, it's the... sort of the God in you that knows it's wrong.
>> The next thing you know, Lyndon Johnson was introducing a voting rights bill with the words, "And we shall overcome."
And so you saw that this was a government of the people and the people had the power, not the president.
You had the feeling that you were being used by forces that you had no control over.
And all you had to do was let go and let God.
>> What I find remarkable about Martin Luther King is that he was willing to cooperate with politicians, most significantly with Lyndon Johnson, and yet, King was able to maintain his distance, his prophetic distance from power and from the lures of power.
>> I want to make it very clear that I'm going to continue... >> NARRATOR: King put his relationship with Johnson at risk, directly confronting the president on Vietnam.
>> ...with all of my actions to oppose that abominable, evil, unjust war in Vietnam.
( applause ) >> It's one thing to be a popular prophet or an inside prophet, where you have instant access to the halls of power-- you can have lunch or tea with Lyndon Baines Johnson whenever it's convenient.
But in his opposition to the war in Vietnam, he became an outside prophet, like Jeremiah throwing pebbles from the outside.
>> And don't let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world.
God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment.
And seems that I can hear God saying to America, "You are too arrogant, and if you don't change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power."
>> He knowingly and willingly burnt his bridges to the source of power in the United States.
And he did so because, as he said, "I am a minister of the Gospel and I must tell that truth.. >> And I take that as an illustration of King's ability to use the political system but not to allow himself or to allow the faith to become co-opted by politicians, to become corrupted by access to the councils of power.
>> NARRATOR: By the end of his life, Martin Luther King had fully embraced his role as political outsider and uncompromising American prophet.
>> Well, I don't know what will happen now.
We've got some difficult days ahead.
But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.
I don't mind.
>> He had never spoken with such power and never articulated this vision with such a depth of feeling as he did on the night before he died.
>> I just want to do God's will.
And he's allowed me to go up to the mountain, and I've looked over and I've seen the promised land.
I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.
>> His death was not the end.
His words and his spirit have moved all across the earth.
It points to the fact that this is a religious universe.
Most people, particularly most educated Americans, get uncomfortable when their emotions and their spirituality get the best of their intellect.
But there are times when intellect can't handle it.
The truly religious moments in our civil rights movement didn't make any intellectual sense.
Nobody in their right mind would do some of the things that we did.
But we did it because we were caught up in the spirit.
>> By the late '60s, religion has changed in America.
What we see is a movement from emphasis of personal salvation to a social gospel.
And that comes primarily from the civil rights movement.
They have refused to accept the Gospel as simply a message of personal redemption.
>> This is a period where religion is pushing us, changing us as individuals, but also pushing us and changing us as a society.
The public space, the political and social space, is sort of ripe for religious harvesting.
The success of the civil rights movement is going to move people to say, "Let's use religion in the political space in the direction that we want to go."
Sort of a big green light, in a way, to the conjoining together of religion and politics in American life.