Barton’s Contempt for Religious Freedom

by Dan Quinn

So did the nation’s Founders intend the Constitution to treat all Americans equally, regardless of their religion? A court brief recently filed by his Texas-based WallBuilders organization makes it pretty clear that David Barton doesn’t think so.

WallBuilders, which opposes separation of church and state, has filed the brief in a federal appeals court that is considering a religious discrimination case in California. The case involves a Wiccan clergyman the state of California would not hire as a prison chaplain because of his religious beliefs. California law limits the position only to Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Native Americans.

In a post appropriately headlined “Wallbuilders’ Narrow Notion: Religious Liberty For Me, But Not For Thee,” Americans United for Separation of Church and State explains that the WallBuilders brief criticizes a brief submitted earlier by AU in the same case. WallBuilders argues that the AU brief, which supports the Wiccan clergyman’s case, engages in “revisionist history.”

WallBuilder’s argument is nonsense, of course, but Barton should know something about “revisionist history” — it’s something he regularly promotes. The WallBuilders brief touts Barton as “a recognized authority” and “leading scholar” in American history and government because of his “vast collection of rare, primary documents.” But simply collecting artifacts doesn’t make someone a “historian” and certainly not a “leading scholar.” Barton, in fact, has no degree or formal training in either American history or government. His bachelor’s degree is in Christian education from Oral Roberts University. He doesn’t publish peer-reviewed research in social science journals, and his books are largely self-published political tracts. Rather than a “leading scholar,” Barton is a smooth-talking propagandist who distorts history in pursuit of a radical political agenda.

Even so, the WallBuilders brief uses Barton’s trumped-up credentials to justify wading into the case. After that, it’s all about promoting a particular ideological agenda, not real history. In short, the brief is a long-winded justification for allowing — in fact, encouraging — government to engage in religious discrimination.

“(T)he Founders did not intend the Religion Clauses [of the Constitution] to protect paganism and witchcraft,” the brief argues. In fact, the brief says the two can’t even be considered religions under the Constitution. Then WallBuilders goes even further, arguing that the Founders really intended only to protect freedom for monotheistic religions (such as, of course, Christianity). In Barton’s America, the Constitution affords no such protections to followers of polytheistic religions.

WallBuilders also argues that atheists shouldn’t be equal under the Constitution either:

“It is one thing to allow freedom of conscience to all. It is another to trust atheists to testify at trial or hold office. This is so because, if one does not believe in God and in an eternal state of punishment or reward, one has no reason to fear that punishment and thus, the theory goes, will be more likely to engage in immoral or unethical behavior, to the determent of one’s fellow citizens and of society.”

Got that? The guy the Texas State Board of Education put on a panel of “experts” helping revise social studies curriculum standards for public schools runs an organization that argues the Constitution essentially creates two kinds of American citizens: those who believe in approved religions and those who don’t. And government may then discriminate against the latter.

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