The Producer Of 'Heaven Is For Real' Once Helped Get Organized Prayer Outlawed In Public Schools

While God’s Not Dead is currently rampaging through the box office, grossing more than $22 million thus far on a third of the screens as most big budget releases, there’s another faith-based film with an on-the-nose title in production that seems poised to earn even more: Heaven Is For Real. Based on the book by Todd and Colton Burpo (pictured – I still can’t believe those are real names), the Sony Pictures film (which opens in two weeks and stars Greg Kinnear as the elder Burpo) was produced by megachurch minister TD Jakes (seen here being palmed by Tyler Perry in one of my favorite pictures of all time) and former Fox head Joe Roth (among others).

Both men are clearly smart enough to know a cash cow when they smell one, but where extracting money from the religious is old hat for Jakes, it’s sort of an ironic twist for Joe Roth. In fact, according to an awesome time capsule NY Times profile from 1990, Roth was actually instrumental in getting organized prayer outlawed in public schools:

The need to compete came early. In 1959, at the age of 11, he walked out of his sixth-grade classroom and into the history books. The son of two New York Communists, [Roth] was one of five children who triggered Engle v. Vitale, the case in which the United States Supreme Court in 1962 outlawed prayer in public schools. Until he graduated, he says, the Roman Catholic boys at Herricks High School on Long Island crossed themselves before talking to him. ”I guess my tenacity comes from fighting the system for a long time,” he says.

I wonder if all those folks who’ll inevitably be arriving to their Heaven Is For Real screening on church buses know that the guy who optioned the book is a Jewish son of Communists.

Meanwhile, on a neither-here-nor-there note, Roth may also be to blame for Steven Seagal becoming an action star and for Andrew Dice Clay’s movie career:

Looking at the weekend box-office results, he claps his hands. ”Hard to Kill,” a Warner Brothers movie starring the almost unknown Steven Seagal, is at the top of the list. Four months ago, Mr. Roth played a hunch and made a deal with Mr. Seagal. […]

And he gave the producers of ”The Adventures of Ford Fairlane,” an unorthodox thriller starring the comedian Andrew Dice Clay, an extra $1.5 million to make the movie bigger. […]

“I’m drawn to the power of movies to express anti-establishment feelings.” He has a hunch that he can make a movie star out of the abrasive, outlaw comedian Andrew Dice Clay and has built three movies around him. [NYTimes]

It takes the same kind of balls to call yourself an anti-establishmentarian while running a movie studio as it does to go from taking down school prayer to producing one of the most mainstream Christian movies ever. So in that way, he’s been totally consistent. You wonder if he regrets the prayer in school case. I’ll say this, I bet he regrets it less than he does Ford Fairlane.

[Thanks to Jordan Hoffman for making me aware of this].