David Barton is perhaps the leading proponent of the notion that the U.S. was once, and should again be a “Christian Nation.” He wants to sell you on that idea. He has books and tapes to sell too. The problem is that his slick products and presentations don’t stand up to scrutiny. For example, in 1996, the mainstream Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs wrote a detailed critique, debunking Barton’s Christian nationalist notions.
Barton is speaking in Worcester, Massachusetts at a Christian homeschooling convention at the end of the month — in the wake of a firestorm of criticism in Washington, DC about his bogus version of history, his attacks on the role of the federal judiciary, and concerns about his theocratic political agenda.
Barton is currently at the center of a growing series of contoversies in Washington, DC regarding his association with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN).
Frist recently invited his congressional colleagues to participate in a “private tour” of the U.S. Capitol building with Barton. Frist described the tour as a “Fresh Perspective on Our Nation’s Religious Heritage” and that Barton is “a historian noted for his detailed research into the religious heritage of our nation.”
A simple Google search turns up other disturbing information about Barton. Not only does he disseminate biased and misleading materials, he has a profound, and profoundly alarming political agenda. Last year, Beliefnet reported that Barton is on the board of The Providence Foundation, a Christian Reconstructionist oriented organanizaton. Reconstructionism is an influential political theology whose proponents argue that the U.S. should be a Christian theocracy, under “Biblical law.” (I wrote about this movement and its role in the Christian right in detail in my book Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy.)
Lest anyone think that this is a tempest in a teapot, and that Barton is a fringe figure of no signficance, Roll Call reports that Barton often conducts such tours under the sponsorship of Members of Congress. He is also the Vice-Chair of the Texas Republican Party.
Rev. Welton Gaddy, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance urged Frist to “disassociate” himself from Barton. “I first became acquainted with Mr. Barton in the early 1970’s,” Gaddy wrote, “when I was a staff member of the Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. For the past 30 years, Barton has been evangelizing his extremist beliefs that the separation of church and state is a myth and that the United States was founded as and should be governed as a Christian nation; this is bad history and dangerous theology. By having Mr. Barton as a host of a religious heritage tour, you send a volatile message to all Americans that Washington has once again overstepped its bounds and is endorsing revisionist history along with advancing a right-wing agenda. Given the present mood of the country and the questionable role that religion has played in Washington recently, these are treacherous waters to be treading.”
Ralph Neas, president of People for the American way also urged Frist, to disassociate himself from Barton, citing one of Barton’s books. From Neas’ description, the book sounds like a field manual for the current attacks on the state and federal judiciary by Christian Right leaders and their allies in Congress.
“Mr. Barton’s 1996 book Impeachment!: Restraining an Over Active Judiciary,” writes Neas, [is] “a 50 page handbook on how and why the right should push for impeachment of judges whose decisions they disagree with on abortion, school desegregation, homosexuality, and other subjects.”
“Clearly stated,” Neas concluded, “is Barton’s agenda to intimidate federal judges, noting that even if impeachment does not succeed, the threat ‘serves as a deterrent’ and would cause judges to ‘become more restrained.'”
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) denounced Barton’s planned tour noting that Barton “intends to prove that the separation of church and state is a myth, and that America’s Founders intended for the United States to be a Christian nation.” He called on Frist to cancel his plan “to tour the U.S. Capitol with this man who says this should be a Christian-only country.”
The Barton controversy figures into the widening attack on the judiciary by Christian Rightists and their allies in Congress. Some of rhetoric has seemed to justify violence against the judiciary. According to a report in The Washington Post, author Edwin Vieira told a recent conference “Remedies to Judicial Tyranny,” in Washington DC, that Supreme Court justice Anthony M. Kennedy, “should be impeached because his philosophy, evidenced in his opinion striking down an anti-sodomy statute, ‘upholds Marxist, Leninist, satanic principles drawn from foreign law.'”
“Ominously,” the Post added, “Vieira continued by saying his ‘bottom line’ for dealing with the Supreme Court comes from Joseph Stalin. ‘He had a slogan, and it worked very well for him, whenever he ran into difficulty: ‘no man, no problem,'” Vieira said.
“The full Stalin quote, for those who don’t recognize it, is ‘Death solves all problems: no man, no problem.’ Presumably, Vieira had in mind something less extreme than Stalin did and was not actually advocating violence. But then, these are scary times for the judiciary. An anti-judge furor may help confirm President Bush’s judicial nominees, but it also has the potential to turn ugly.”
“A judge in Atlanta and the husband and mother of a judge in Chicago were murdered in recent weeks. After federal courts spurned a request from Congress to revisit the Terri Schiavo case, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) said that “the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) mused about how a perception that judges are making political decisions could lead people to ‘engage in violence.'”
“The people who have been speaking out on this, like Tom DeLay and Senator Cornyn, need to be backed up,” longtime Christian Right leader Phyllis Schlafly said to applause at the conference.
When Barton is not giving capitol tours with Senator Frist, he often speaks at Christian Right political conferences, and conventions of Christian homeschoolers. Homeschools are key markets for the historical revisionist materials produced by Barton’s and like minded groups. For example, Barton will be the keynote speaker at a Massachusetts statewide homeschooling convention at the Worcester Centrum on April 29th.
“We are pleased to welcome David Barton of WallBuilders,” according to the conference web site, “as one of our keynote speakers this year. David will bless us with his passion for the clear truth of the Christian founding and principles of our nation. He will be presenting one workshop on Friday afternoon and a keynote address on Friday evening.”
Barton will certainly not be the only controversial Christian Rightist in Worcester. One of the many exhibitors seeking to seek to sell thier wares and services at the Worcester conference, and at similar events around the country, will be the Home School Legal Defence Assocation, (HSLDA) headed by longtime Christian Right activist, Michael P. Farris, who was a featured speaker at the anti-judiciary conference. Farris said, according to The Washington Post, that Justice Kennedy, a Republican appointee of Ronald Reagan, “‘should be the poster boy for impeachment’ for citing international norms in his opinions. ‘If our congressmen and senators do not have the courage to impeach and remove from office Justice Kennedy, they ought to be impeached as well.'”
Farris, Barton, and others are disseminating Christian nationalist propaganda through a nationwide network of sectarian Christian schools and home schools, which many Christian Rightists see as the base for the longterm takeover the of the U.S. As I reported in Eternal Hostility, Chris Klicka, HSLDA’s Senior Counsel and Director of State and International Relations has written, “Sending our children to public schools violates nearly every Biblical principle… It is tantamount to sending our children to be trained by the enemy.”
People concerned about the growth of the Christian nationalist movement, and its propagation through the Christian homeschooling network, might want to check out this list of home school conventions, and the speaking schedule of David Barton and his staff.
[Crossposted from FrederickClarkson.com]