A Real Scholar’s Take on David Barton

Kudos to Jon Stewart for following up.

The host of “The Daily Show” recently invited Richard Beeman, a constitutional scholar and history professor at the University of Pennsylvania, to respond to claims by phony historian David Barton made on the same show earlier this month.

To his credit, Stewart begins the Beeman interview by admitting he felt a little bit beaten up by Barton, who at times talked circles around Stewart. Hey, Barton may not always tell the truth, but like all good propagandists, he’s good with words. He’s still not a historian, though.

Regardless of how you feel about Barton, pretend for a few moments that he doesn’t exist. Because Barton aside, the interview with Beeman is a fascinating conversation about constitutional history, what the Constitution actually says, and what our nation’s founders actually intended with respect to religion.


Richard Beeman on “The Daily Show,” part 1.
Richard Beeman on “The Daily Show,” part 2.

(H/T: Ed Brayton)

12 thoughts on “A Real Scholar’s Take on David Barton

  1. Nice, but they’re still not going far enough. All they really did was expose inaccuracies in Barton’s thinking, when they need to also be uncovering the big, whopping, neon-glowing lies he tells on a regular basis. In other words, do what Chris Rodda does. Barton isn’t just misinformed or ignorant, he is as calculating a liar as you’ll ever see.

  2. One thing for sure, Barton is not a scholarly trained historian or an attorney. Nonetheless, there are many Americans who are still misled by the distortion caused by use of the words “separation of church and state.” Those words are not in the Constitution, so stop using them as if they were and everyone will have an accurate understanding of exactly what the Constitution separates: “separation between Religion and Government,” James Madison, W&MQ, 3:555, c. 1817. It is a “religious” test which shall not be required, and it is “religion” which shall not be established by law or Congress or government at any level, including public schools and court houses. Barton is a fraud.

    To counter the inaccuracies of Barton and the “Religious Right,” I published my book The Religion Commandments in the Constitution: A Primer,

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yb7SbUWw9dM .

  3. Madison also said:

    “The Civil Govt . . . functions with complete success; Whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, & the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State”

  4. Ben (and others here) … you may be interested in what I’m going to start doing this summer. I’m launching a podcast called “This Week In Christian Nationalism, which will have a regular segment called “If I Could Debate David Barton.” After the Stewart interview, I decided I need to ramp up my exposing of Barton and began thinking of new ideas, one of which is the podcast, which I’ll be posting on HuffPost, Talk2Action, and elsewhere. I did a preview of the podcast for something last weekend (a fundraiser on Livestream), and went after one of Barton’s biggest lies from the Stewart interview. I have it up on YouTube as an unlisted video. It’s been flagged for possible copyright issues because it includes footage from the Daily Show, but I think it still works if you have the link to get to it.

    The link is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fidUr5d936E

    This is just a preview to show what the format of the podcast will be like, so ignore how rough it is and what I look like (I had just gotten caught in the rain and even didn’t have time to change). I’ve now bought everything I need to set up something that looks like a real set, which I’ll be doing this weekend, and a tripod for my camera so I can set it up farther from the desk.

    I’d love to hear what people think, and am open to any suggestions as I get this thing going.


  5. Chris,

    The link didn’t work—looks like the video was pulled—but the podcast sounds good to me. You might also create a Facebook page of the same name, so people will know when each new podcast is available. When people do a search for “David Barton” on Facebook, they need to see that there is at least one page that exposes his lies.

  6. Good idea, Ben. These are the kind of things I don’t think of, which is why I want input from other people.

    I think I’m going to redo the “preview episode” I did last weekend (minus the stuff that was specific to last week’s Livestream event) and post it somewhere else. YouTube has been getting really bad with flagging videos that are perfectly legal. The short Stewart clip I used would definitely be considered fair use, and will probably be no problem elsewhere.

  7. Ben,

    It does make any difference if Jefferson or Madison used the words “church and state,” those words are not in the Constitution, which is why I use Madison’s phrase “separation between Religion and Government,” which more accurately expresses about what the separation is. Why such objection to citing the actual words of the Constitution? They are the words to which the public and the court must adhere. The word “church” is misleading and inaccurate. You can argue for “church” all you want, but such an argument is a distortion and continues to misinform the public as to about what the Constitution commands in respect to religion and government. It is a simple as that! So, why does TFN continue to distort what the Constitution actually says? Use of the word “church” is exactly what the Religious Right wants everyone to believe. Properly frame the argument and there is no debate or confusion.

  8. Gene,

    I’m not arguing for “church.” I’ve never argued for or against “church.” What I’m saying is that “properly framing” the argument will have zero effect on the religious right or anyone inclined to accept their lies. If you have evidence that I’m wrong, it’s time to bring it out.

    You say: “Properly frame the argument and there is no debate or confusion.”

    Sorry, but that’s just wrong. Liars like Barton will never concede. Instead of quibbling about “separation of church and state” versus whatever phrase you might suggest, please put your energy toward something more productive.

  9. Anonymous, I am debating, on this TFN scattered blog system, with you and TFN. Use of the word “church” is a distortion and a revision of what the Constitution commands, because the word “church” nowhere appears in the Constitution. It is simply not the truth to assert the Constitution uses the word “church.” It does not. TFN should eliminate the wording “church=state” from its mission statement, because those words are not in the Constitution and are a distortion of what the Constitution says and commands. I have never lost this wording debate, I always win, and you have not won this debate with me. No one has ever won the wording debate with me, because no one can, since the word “church” does not exist in the Constitution. TFN needs to conform it mission statement to the words of the Constitution. It will then have the same success I have in debating the issue. Words do matter, and the wording in the Constitution cannot be denied. I used to be on the staff of Americans United. They too have failed to conform to the wording of the Constitution. No wonder the debate still goes on in the Court and on the street.

    By the way, I do debate the same proper framing with Dr. Michael Newdow. The argument must be properly and constitutionally framed in order to win on the street or before the Supreme Court, as any attorney should understand. It is as simple as that.

  10. Gene,

    Sorry for the confusion. “Anonymous” is me. I cleared my cookies, and because of that, my name no longer appeared in the header.

    You said: It is simply not the truth to assert the Constitution uses the word “church.”

    I have never said that, I am not saying that now, and I will not say that in the future. Are you clear on that?

    Never mind. Don’t answer. I give up.

  11. No problem. Everyone including TFN must understand the word “church” is not in the Constitution and is a distortion of what the Constitution says.

    The wordin the First Amendment is “religion,” and “religion” is what is not to be established. It is way past time for TFN and every separationist to understand the value of using the words of the Constitution to explain what the Constitution means. The debate with our opponents is then clearly and accurately stated and cannot be lost at any level.