Having his distorted book on Thomas Jefferson pulled off the shelves by a prominent evangelical publisher doesn’t seem to be slowing down David Barton’s efforts to rewrite history. Now he’s promoting an essay in which he calls the idea that the Bill of Rights was intended to protect the rights of the minority “ridiculous”:
Sadly, in recent years some federal courts have also declared that “The purpose of the Bill of Rights is to protect the minority from the majority,” yet this is ridiculous. No individual is to lose his or her right to free speech, self-defense, the rights of religious conscience, or any other right simply because he or she happens to be in the majority rather than a minority. To the contrary, the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights were all based on the philosophy that government is to protect the God-given rights of every individual, whether they are in the majority or the minority, from the encroachments of government.
Ironically, in writing about issues like gay rights and abortion in the same essay, Barton offers a pretty good example of “encroachments of government.” He criticizes “morally aberrant groups proclaiming their right to constitutional protection.” He argues that the “American government must operate according to moral standards set forth by God Himself”:
“The Constitution was not designed to protect individuals from God-ordained standards of morality but instead to protect the nation from court-sanctioned immorality.”
Translation: Barton wants his religious views — and his belief that those religious views are the foundation for our system of government — to trump the rights of Americans who don’t share them.
In truth, our nation’s Founders were well aware that majority rule could threaten the rights of those not in the majority. Some thought that the Constitution’s republican form of government would be sufficient for protecting those minority rights. Others argued that a Bill of Rights was essential. Responding to calls by Thomas Jefferson for a Bill of Rights, James Madison — often called the “Father of the Constitution” — wrote to the author of the Declaration of Independence:
“Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is cheifly to be apprehended, not from acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents.”
Contrary to Barton’s absurd suggestion, no one argues that the Bill of Rights doesn’t protect the rights of all individuals, whether they are part of the majority or the minority. Of course it does. But in a democratic system, the majority has a protection that the minority doesn’t: control of the government. That makes the Bill of Rights an important protection against the “encroachments of government” especially for the minority. And if those protections are upheld by the courts, they can keep people like Barton from using government to promote their own religious views over those of everybody else.