Barton and Civil Rights

In TFN’s 2006 report The Anatomy of Power: The Religious Right and Political Power, we took a hard look at the career of pseudo-scholar David Barton and his efforts to provide a historical justification for making religion the basis for government policy.  Our conclusion:

His main accomplishment (has been) to provide a bridge between the secular and political world  of the Republican Party and the religious world of evangelicals.

Fast forward almost five years to present day, and Barton is now hard at work trying to bridge another gap — this one between the Republican Party and African-American voters. Barton is shopping a revised version of American civil rights history wherein the GOP is the champion of racial equality and Democrats defenders of racism. And guess who’s buying — the man who is preparing to headline a conservative rally at the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech this weekend: Glenn Beck.

But as is always the case with Barton, the story he tells is built on distorted history and half-truths. So says Julie Ingersoll, an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Florida:

Like Barton’s larger revisionist effort to develop and perpetuate the narrative that America is a “Christian nation,” the “Republicans-are-really-the-party-of-racial-equality” narrative is not entirely fictive. Some historical points Barton makes are true; but he and his star pupil Beck manipulate those points along with false historical claims in order to promote their political agenda.

Ingersoll points out that the case for this new right-leaning civil rights narrative is less than persuasive, to say the least. Barton focuses solely on southern congressional Democrats who opposed civil rights until 1964, and apparently has forgotten that a fellow Texan and a Democrat, President Lyndon Johnson, led the successful fight for tough civil rights legislation and enforcement in 1964. Johnson himself predicted correctly that this would lead many Southern Democrats to move to the Republican Party, but Barton also overlooks the subsequent “Southern strategy” used successfully by the Nixon and Reagan campaigns and, to this day, by many Southern politicians to exploit the race issue for their own political gain.

Ingersoll’s entire article on the Beck-Barton partnership is really worth a full read. And here are a few other articles on the controversy swirling around Beck’s attempt to “reclaim the civil rights movement” at this weekend’s rally:

“Glenn Beck’s rally cannot block nation’s path” (Rep. John Lewis in USA Today)

“Glenn Beck rewrites civil rights history” (CNN)

“Beck Rallies In Washington Undercut Church-State Separation” (Americans United for Separation of Church and State)

“Martin Luther King, Jr. Was a Social Justice Christian” (Rev. Jim Wallis on The Huffington Post)

6 thoughts on “Barton and Civil Rights

  1. Politics breeds odd couples. The Civil Rights movement of the Sixties/Seventies was pairing of Left Wing Anti-Establishmentarians from the Colleges of the Establishement NorthEast and the Black Civil Rights activists based on Black (largely Baptist) churches.

    Opposing the Civil Rights Movements were the White Evangelican and (White) Baptist churches with a strong admixture of Identity Christian (Klan/White Supremacist) “Churches”.

    The best lies have a grain of truth therein.

  2. The egregious lie that the United States is a Christian nation does more than just make me sick, it infuriates me. Don’t sick people like him bother to read the Constitution? WE ARE A SECULAR COUNTRY, always has been always will be.

    I’d love to sit the idiot down and have him read ALOUD the Constitution and then tell anyone that this is a “Christian” country.

    Does he mean that ONLY Christians can practice their religion?

    Bigots like him deserve one thing: deportation to a Muslim country where he can try to say that it is a Christian country. In Saudi Arabia, he’d be dead in a week.

  3. the Constitution preclude establishment or repression of a religion and likewise, precludes a religious test in the affairs of state. This does not inherently establish securality as a replacement to the extent that it represses the expression of religion. Belief in no God is a religious belief subject to constraints regarding establishment and repression.

    Tearing down crosses on public land and many of the other court decisions repressing public expression of religion is repression none the less. The political popularity of government actions of repression of religion is eventually likely to be overturned by the Supreme Court.

    Judges that are elected by the public or appointed by publically elected officials will likely pay attention to the political damage that repression of majority opinions concerning Christianity. It winds up as a multi- negative; Banning religious repression regarding Christianity is not the same as estblishing Christianity.

  4. Well, I wonder if Barton and Beck will succeed in their quest to get black Americans to rally and stage protests that are counter to their own interests? Judging by the area in which I live, it is quite possible. What am I talking about?

    Well, I’ll put it this way. I live in an area that is historically Republican, and that depends heavily on federal research dollars, like those for NASA in Houston. One of the things i have learned is that personal ideology trumps everything. I have seen it in action. I have seen men who were absolutely committed to voting against their own interests when they knew—not thought—not imagined—BUT KNEW that the candidate they voted for would institute policies within one year that would result in the utter destruction of their jobs. And those jobs were indeed destroyed. I never saw anything like it. They lined up like lemmings to willfully destroy their own jobs, their bank accounts, and the fabric of their family lives.

  5. I don’t know exactly what the title of Beck’s rally yesterday was, nor do I know what the point of it was, nor what ideas he was trying to convey. All I can say is that I should have bet my entire life savings (such as it is) that the message was one of general evangelical Christianity, conservative, and to fire people up for the midterm elections.

    For those conservatives here who are going to want to jump all over me for being anti-First Amendment, I agree Glenn Beck – and anyone else – has a right to hold a rally, assuming he has met the requirements for holding a rally on that spot which – obviously, he did.

    Too bad, eh, I denied you the chance to condemn me as a Marxist, an anti-free speecher “leftie.”

    I agree with Gordon Fowkes that the level of protest against religious symbols on public places has gone too far. Such protests need to be more narrowly and quietly fought. Such protests should be more discriminatory, not sweeping. For example, the protests against the boulders inscribed with the ten commandments have been silly and self-defeating. To the best of my knowledge, the boulders were placed there by Cecil B. DeMille (or by Paramount Pictures) to celebrate the 1956 film “The Ten Commandments,” one of the most popular, best-loved films of all time. The placement of the boulders had nothing to do with anyone trying to force Christianity on the public. (In fact, the Ten Commandments really aren’t Christian since the fourth commandment tells us to “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” Unless one is Seventh Day Adventist (hardly the largest Christian denomination), Christians do NOT “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.”)

    Gordon is also right that the Supreme Court is likely to side with those who want to place or maintain religious symbols on public property.

    I agree with Beverly that there’s nothing in the Constitution that declares the U.S. a “Christian nation.” However, those who want it to be are soon likely to tell you there is nothing in the Constitution that says the U.S. is NOT a Christian nation. So when she says: “WE ARE A SECULAR COUNTRY, always have been always will be,” I’m not too sure about that last part. Others far more powerful and influential than we want to Christianize it, and they are winning more hearts and minds than the secular side. Look to the content of the TX SBOE and to the numbers in attendance at Beck’s rally yesterday for evidence that supports my opinion.

    I agree with Charles that people are so confused and scared that anyone who gets up and scares people with hysterical cries of “government takeovers” and – best of all – invokes ‘God’ and ‘Jesus Christ,’ can inspire people to vote against their own interests.

    In fact, Charles, this morning’s San Antonio Express News says this: “….the audience at Beck’s rally was overwhelmingly Anglo, though a number of speakers and performers were black. Among them was Alveda King, a nice of the civil rights leader, who in a speech said that if King were alive, he would commend the organizers of the event and “would encourage us to lay aside the vicious lies that cause us to th we are members of separate races.”

  6. Wasn’t Barton a speaker Saturday at the Beck jubilee? Which of his fraudulent historical accounts did he roll out I wonder? He has a speech that is available on DVD called “The Biblical Constitution.” That would have been a good one for the occasion.

    Well gosh I’ve read numerous accounts of Constitutional Convention of 1787 and can’t think of a single instance where the Bible was debated. Although to be fair no actual record of the debates exist; the most complete account comes from James Madison’s notes. We do know that one morning a delegate suggested a prayer to open a session and Alexander Hamilton replied “we are not in need of any foreign aid.” The debates themselves were extremely contentious knock down, drag out affairs. From time to time delegates got mad and stormed out. Some returned later in the day, some the next day and some jumped on their horses and rode home, never to return again. And the debates regularly continued after hours in the taverns of Philadelphia. Those sessions sometimes lasted until the wee hours.

    I don’t think Barton’s theory of a Biblical Constitution carries nearly as much weight as the theory that the Constitution was the end product of a good beer buzz.