The Telecast

The American Religious Town Hall Meeting Television Program began in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1952. Bishop A. A. Leiske believed that if leaders just talked together, many of the animosities and misunderstandings that existed among and between various religions would largely disappear. In the era of the 1930’s, ‘40’s, and 50’s, about the only time clergy from different denominations talked was when they publicly debated each other. The panel as pictured above is circa 1980. In his own words the Bishop said…

“I am not a prophet or a dreamer, but I believe as surely as I am sitting here that it was Provi­dence that had a hand in the beginning of the American Religious Town Hall. God works through us, you know. I believe He worked through me that day. It was on the night of November 30,1952, at two o’clock in the morning to be exact, that I awoke suddenly from a sound sleep with the whole idea clear in my mind. I saw the studio, the panel representing many different denominations.

“It was forceful and exciting — a regular weekly television panel made up of these different churches, all having their say on the points which today concern us so deeply. But the idea was unusual, too. I saw the whole thing as a means by which the American people could do so much to help preserve our American way of life — our democracy, our spirit of tolerance and free­dom. I felt that at this tragic and confused moment in history, especially, we need to show the world, and ourselves, too, that we can sit down together, all denominations, and talk over touchy religious problems without anger or bick­ering, but with tolerance. If we can’t find our­selves, how can we find God?

“We want to show the world that in a truly free nation men might disagree, but those same men will stand together to preserve their right to dis­agree. This is the great American patriotic reli­gious principle that came to me that night in November. It’s the great principle on which the success of the American Religious Town Hall is based.”

Leiske contacted five clergy, and all enthusiastically said “Yes, I’d like to be part of a television discussion that would help bring us together.” The first interfaith program was broadcast over WCCO, St. Paul, Minnesota, January 10, 1953. Bishop Leiske began the program by introducing the program and the panelists, then the subject. As moderator he took a neutral stance, which was hard for a man of his firm convictions. Toward the end of the program, the panelists summarized their positions, and Leiske concluded by reading from the charter of The American Religious Town Hall Meeting, Inc. The program follows the same format to this day.

Bishop Leiske served as president of the corporation until 1980, when his son Robert became president. The Bishop continued to serve as moderator of the television program until his death in 1984. Robert then became moderator, occupying the position of president and moderator until his untimely death in 2004. Robert’s wife Elizabeth became president and served until her retirement in 2016. Steven M. Tandy currently serves as CEO/President.