The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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"A Christian Looks At the Religious Right"

Responding to David Barton

Don S. Wilkey, Jr. April 2002


It has been my own observation that anti-separation of church and state groups and leaders tend to have a common root in David Barton. When I have browsed through theocratic booths at Religious Right gatherings, I noted that people, like Peter Marshall, Jr. and various militia groups, base their theories about Americaís origins on Bartonís research. Americans United for Separation of Church and State have called Barton the most prominent instructor of the revision of history regarding this matter. 1

I watched in person as David Barton delivered his slick presentation on the origins of the Republic. He clicked on synchronized overhead projections timed to correlate with his verbal assault on separation. David claimed at the meeting that just about all the signers of the Declaration of Independence were ministers or Christians. He said half the original Congress were pastors. He commented that he has looked and not found separation in the Constitution. He then revealed he has been solicited to help rewrite Texas school books regarding American history. 2

Barton is a prime mover among the Religious Right with his attacks on separation. James Kennedy, the nationally known TV preacher, uses Bartonís quotes in his advancement of the idea of shelving the bad idea of separation. Davidís videos are a regular in church viewings across the South. He speaks at large churches as an invited expert and holds many regional rallies in larger cities. 3

Bartonís influence is growing and his part on the Republican Platform Committee has brought him further attention. One Texas school board race in the Dallas area credits Bartonís writings for the controversial board memberís positions. 4

David wants to have a partisan influence in his home state sending out letters encouraging followers to support judges for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. 5

Bartonís fame has grown with the recent court rulings on school prayer. Barton has claimed these rulings are unconstitutional and threaten individual freedoms. In his home state, where football games are routinely opened by a public prayer, the historian has gained a ground swell of followers.

The problem with Bartonís "research" is that noted historians claim it is bad history, bad Constitutional law and bad legal advice. Professor Mark Whitten, who is also a Baptist minister, claims that Bartonís prayer-meeting story about the founding fathers and the Constitution is a myth. 6

As a matter of observation, accepting Bartonís conclusions about church and state refutes just about every secular and religious universityís conclusions about American history. Itís as if everyone else got it wrong, but Barton alone discovered the real truth of Americaís Christian heritage. Barton personally claims the vast majority of founding citizens were active church members, whenever my own inquiries have brought up figures of barely %30. Some have surmised that less than %5 of the citizens had much interest in church attendance during this period.

Americans United has published a sheet refuting much of Bartonís conclusions. Such as; The idea that the wall was intended by Jefferson to be one directional. Actually, Jefferson wanted the wall to apply to both parties. While David says most of the founding fathers were evangelical, most were members of the Church of England. Barton claims the First Amendment was only meant to prohibit the establishment of a national church. Actually, the founders meant much more than this, according to AU. Barton falsely charges that school religious practices were only challenged after court ruling in the early sixties. This charge is not accurate, as well before court rulings in the sixties, schools had outlawed religious practices and court rulings had upheld separation. The mail out also lists several quotes from Bartonís works, that Barton himself had to refute as inaccurate. 7

The Baptist Joint Committee, a separation advocate in Washington DC, has published a fact sheet refuting the Oral Roberts University graduateís conclusions. The BJC charges that Barton promotes a form of dualism that denies government ability to remain neutral in matters of religion.8

Nicholas Miller, an attorney in the nationís capitol, has written a report attacking the Texanís conclusions. Among his conclusions are the following; Barton denies that separation is in the Constitution. Separation is a myth, since it is implied, says Barton. Miller refutes this. Another myth is the idea that Jefferson used a hasty metaphor in describing the wall of separation. The next myth is that the wall was one sided. The myth of the national church and the uniformity of the founders is attacked. Miller lists the myth Barton advances about an unchanging Constitution. The final myth described is the myth that Christianity is dependent on civil powers. 9

In Bartonís best seller, THE MYTH OF SEPARATION, there are some alarming statements presented to the reader. David believes that Christians were the ones who were intended to hold public office. pg. 26 Thus, Jews and other sects were not allowed to serve as elected officials. Contrary to traditional view points, like Dr. Estepís in REVOLUTION WITHIN THE REVOLUTION, Christianity was the official religion and other faiths were not given the freedom to worship in the nation. pg. 39 Separation applied mostly to denominational differences. pg. 43 A summary of the work is found in the quote on page 46, "The doctrine of separation of church and state is absurd." The author claims that general Christianity is the established religion of the nation. pg. 64 The most important political institution in the nation after 50 years was Christianity. pg.135 Barton advances a theocracy position as that of the founding fathers. He says that early court rulings made Christianity the official faith of the nation. pg. 47 His conclusion on how to restore America to its original intent is to do it politically. He wants the church to become active in politics at the local level. pg. 266 Barton became vice chair of the Republican Party in Texas. His friend, Ralph Reed, is now chair of the same party in Georgia.

Though Bartonís tapes, and his presence are visible in Baptist churches, his basic thesis stands in direct contrast to Baptist statements of faith. The 1963, or older version of the Baptist Faith and Message, as well as the current statement of the Southern Baptist Convention, still adheres to separation. Yet, in spite of this position the Religious Liberty wing of the SBC and its head, Richard Land, embrace Barton as an ally. How the denomination embraces and welcomes such a threat to a historical Baptist doctrine appears strange to observers.

Davidís charts on the decline of American civilization are a commonly recited standard for those in the Religious Right who seek to attack separation. The charts seek to link the idea that "divine law" was rejected in the year that led to the decline of the nation. pg. 209-216 That year happened to be the year of the school prayer ruling. Thus separation is the great social evil that is the root cause of unwed mothers, violence, V.D., SAT scores and divorce.

Another concern to Christians about Barton is his link with extremist groups. Militia and theocracy advocates quote his works. Rob Boston, of Americans United, has listed this author as one of the speakers sharing time on the platform on at least two occasions with White Supremacists and Neo Nazi according to a net site. The Anti-Defamation League claims Barton has been on the platform with racist and anti-Semitic elements in the extreme right. The ADL takes the historian to task on his scholarship with the following quote; "This ostensible scholarship functions in the fact as an assault on scholarship: in the manner of other recent phony revisionisms, the history it supports is little more than a compendium of anecdotes divorced from their original context, linked harum-scarum and laced with factual errors and distorted innuendo. Bartonís Ďscholarship,í like that of Holocaust denial and Atlantic slave trade conspiracy-mongering, is rigged to arrive at predetermined conclusion, not history." 10

Barton certainly serves as a grand reminder of the Christian heritage we all enjoy in the nation. Christians need to examine the cultural influence they have had on the Western World. However, Barton lacks the academic credentials to revise American history and assault a cherished Christian doctrine. It appears most theocracy roads lead back to Bartonís research and presentations. Do Christians really want to accept this manís view of our nation to the extent we are willing to shelve Democracy in the name of a theocratic state? Do Christians really believe that Jews and other non Christian groups are not welcome in the country? Do evangelical Christians actually believe that people can form a Christian nation who have no part of a born again experience? Can evangelicals accept that being born in a nation makes them an official part of an official national religion? Can a man who does not claim to be a Baptist convince Baptists that their sacred doctrine of separation is a mere Myth? These are some troubling questions the nationís Christians must be willing to ask themselves.

Endnotes

1. Houston Area Americans United, PO Box 60275, Houston, TX. 77205, pg. 1.

2. Vision America Regional Meeting, Nov. 6, 2002, Houston, TX.

3. Wallbuilders Report, Spring 1997, PO Box 397 Aledo, TX. 76008.

4. Gardner, Selby, "Preacher Cites History to Hammer, at Wall Between Church and State", HOUSTON POST, July 3, 1994, A14.

5. David Barton, Wallbuilders letter Feb. 4, 1996.

6. Mark Whitten, "The Myth of Church State Separation", TEXAS BAPTIST COMMITTED, April 1996, pg. 10.

7. "Rap Sheet, Mobilize America", AU, 1816 Jefferson Place, NW Washington, DC 20036

8. "Baptist Joint Committee Critique of David Barton", BJCPA, 200 Maryland Ave. NE Washington, DC 20002

9. Nicholas Miller, "Wallbuilders-Myth Builders", CHRISTIAN ETHICS TODAY, June 1995, pgs. 17-21

10. Abraham Foxman, THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT, ADL, NY, NY, 1994 pgs. 54-55

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