David Barton Gets Defensive — and Vicious

David Barton, the self-styled historian appointed by the Texas State Board of Education to a panel of curriculum “experts,” is angry with the Texas Freedom Network. In an e-mail to far-right activists last week, the founder of WallBuilders (a Christian-right organization that opposes separation of church and state) brands TFN as a member of the “Secular and Religious Left” and even claims that it’s “the state arm of the radical People for the American Way.”

We don’t know where Barton comes up with such nonsense. “Secular and Religious Left”? If by that he means that we support separation of church and state, then he needs to broaden his definition to include a lot of Americans, many of whom certainly do not identify themselves as “secular” or the “religious left.” (He later lumps TFN in with “anti-religious secularist bigots.” That would surely surprise the more than 600 clergy who are part of our Texas Faith Network, as well as the clergy who are part of our Board of Directors.) And “state arm” of PFAW? TFN has no affiliation whatsoever with that fine organization, although we share many of the same mainstream goals — including our work to stop ideologues like Barton from rewriting history and using public schools to promote his own personal and political agendas.

In particular, Barton takes exception to our criticism of his efforts to corrupt the social studies curriculum standards that determine what nearly 5 million Texas children will learn in their public school classrooms:

“Groups such as the Texas Freedom Network (the state arm of the radical People for the American Way) joined with other radicals in the Religious Left to denounce my mentions of Christianity. They nationally distributed a press release of outrageously false claims that were soon parroted by ABC, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, etc.”

“Outrageously false claims”? We suspect this is the press release he means. But in his lengthy screed, he challenges none of the points in that press press release. So let’s recount some of them here:

  • Barton lacks any formal academic training that would qualify him as an “expert” in the social sciences. In fact, his bachelor’s degree is in religious education. That’s it.
  • He claims that separation of church and state is a “myth.”
  • He has argued that our nation’s laws and public policies should be based on the Bible. In fact, he has specifically argued that progressive taxation and labor laws are unbiblical.
  • Groups as Texas Baptists Committed and the Baptist Joint Committee have sharply criticized Barton’s interpretations of the Constitution and history.
  • Barton also acknowledges having used in his publications and speeches nearly a dozen quotes he has attributed to the nation’s Founders even though he can’t identify primary sources showing that they really said them.
  • In 1991 Barton spoke at events hosted by groups tied to white supremacists. He later said he hadn’t known the groups were “part of a Nazi movement.”
  • Barton’s WallBuilders Web site suggests as a “helpful” resource the National Association of Christian Educators/Citizens for Excellence in Education, an organization that calls public schools places of “social depravity” and “spiritual slaughter.”

We stand by all of those statements, which we document here.

Barton also goes on to smear Dr. Derek Davis, dean of humanities, dean of the graduate school and director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Mary Hardin-Baylor University in Belton. Mary Hardin-Baylor is a Baptist institution, as is Baylor University, which is Prof. Davis’ alma mater and where he previously taught before moving to Mary Hardin-Baylor. Prof. Davis spoke last week at a press conference hosted by the Texas Freedom Network that focused on the importance of protecting religious freedom in the revision of the social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools.

Barton levels this particularly outrageous personal attack on Prof. Davis:

“(H)e is a national evangelist for a completely secular public square; and based on his previous statements, he apparently wants to see all mentions of Christianity confined, like pornography, to the privacy of one’s own personal life.”

Viciously suggesting that Prof. Davis equates Christianity with pornography is yet another example of the outrageous tactics we’ve come to expect from the religious right over the years. Anyone who believes that keeping government from favoring or disfavoring any particular religion — something our nation’s Founders also believed was critical to securing religious liberty for everyone — becomes a target of the religious right’s venomous attacks.

Prof. Davis and Willamette University’s Prof. Steven Green, who also spoke at our press conference, are true champions of religious liberty. David Barton’s agenda, on the other hand, represents a serious threat to that fundamentally American constitutional principle. And that’s the truth Barton wants to obscure with his attacks on people like Prof. Davis and on the Texas Freedom Network.

A far-right Web site has published Barton’s full e-mail screed.

27 thoughts on “David Barton Gets Defensive — and Vicious

  1. “In fact, he has specifically argued that progressive taxation and labor laws are unbiblical.”

    Even if true, Mr Barton, is that any reason I should give a damn? I think that I could make a very solid argument that eating at Red Lobster after sunset on Friday night is unbiblical, too. The unbiblicality of either is most emphatically not our government’s concern.

  2. This is good news. It means that TFN is having some success in advancing the truth. Keep it up. You know it’s good when your opposition is publicizing your efforts for you.

  3. Let me guess, Barton also agrees with Pat Robertson that the earthquake in Haiti was caused by a pack with the devil 200 years ago in an effort to escape slavery. These guys are two peas in a pod.

    Barton wants you to have all the religious liberty you can get, as long as it is his brand of far right protestant fundamentalism you want.

  4. It appears to me that David Barton is gravely concerned that TFN is eating deeply into his credibility as a legitimate “historian.”

    The problem with defending credibility in a social science field like history is that one’s facts and assertions in their writings and recorded speeches have to line up “four-square” with the historical facts as understood conventionally by professional American historians with Ph.D. credentials. For example, if one says that George Washington was protected from bullets by divine intervention in a specific battle in the Revolutionary War, they had better have a written certificate (signed by God himself) to present to their colleagues to prove it. Otherwise, it is just opinion, fancy, or conjecture.

    There seems to be a lot of widespread controversy about the content of Mr. Barton’s works and whether that content is historically accurate. There is only one way to resolve this controversy once and for all. To do that, the following process is proposed for consideration:

    1) The Texas Freedom Network, several major Texas newspapers (both Republican and Democrat), and several state universities in Texas, such as the University of Texas (Austin), would appoint a joint independent review panel of credentialed academic historians with Ph.D.s in American history to examine Mr. Barton’s works in American history.

    2) The Ph.D. historians on the review panel would consist of more than 50 percent professing Christians who can and will sign a formal statement about their personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and who will attest by their own signatures to the fact that they have done their review faithfully, objectively, and without prejudice. This would further assure the accuracy and integrity of the testing, and it would prevent any later assertions that the results of the review were prejudiced by alleged anti-Christian secularists.

    3) Direct the panel members to go through David Barton’s books, articles, and audio-video speeches on American history, especially speeches made at local churches, and do a line-by-line review using a lice comb. They would identify and pick out each stated fact, assertion, and conclusion.

    4) Take each identified fact, assertion, and conclusion to the written American historic record (academic works and original papers) to TEST whether it is accurate and credible or whether it represents an inaccuracy, distortion, half-truth, or deception. Furthermore, all of Mr. Barton’s reference sources will be checked to ensure that the stated facts, assertions, and conclusions are consistent with the text of the reference sources that Mr. Barton has cited. No one needs Mr. Barton’s permission to perform such a test because his writings and many of his speeches are a matter of public record and are open to examination by anyone who can lay hands on copies of them.

    5) Each member of the review panel would sign off on the final results of the review, and the results would be legally certified.

    6) The formal results of the review (whether they be positive, negative, or mixed) would be presented to the public in a formal research report and in a written series of articles published in the largest newspapers in Texas and throughout the United States. If Mr. Barton has been truthful, accurate, and responsible in his historical writings and speeches, as every real historian is required to be by his professional peers, then he should have nothing to fear from such a test and should pass it with flying colors. Similarly, if TFN has been accurate, truthful, and responsible in its concerns about Mr. Barton’s works, it should have nothing to fear from this independent and objective academic review.

  5. PHarvey: Speaking of pods, maybe if we found the nest…

    Charles: Now you want to start imposing those far-left secularist criteria like consistency, credibility, and objectivity.

    I’ve dealt with this type of narrow-minded religious bigot for a long time, and the one thing you can always depend upon is that when they’re not allowed to unload their neurotic control freak sh## on you, they ultimately resort to bullying and insults, violence, etc..
    Their religiosity is really a function of their obsessive urge to control other people.

    They are afraid, the obvious facts of the world do not jibe with the narrow view of Christianity they’ve been sold on, and they feel threatened by their own lack of faith, so they want to convert everybody else in order to bolster their faith.

    They’re afraid of death, or the death of their loved ones, and they’re afraid of meaninglessness and nothingness. I have sympathy. It scares me too. It scares everybody. I don’t go around trying to force my religion on everybody else in order to relieve my fear. If they had any real faith, they’d let God take care of it.

    They want to force a dogma centered around the Bible as the complete, perfect and unassailable Word of God.
    However, the old Bible that got us this far isn’t good enough. They want to write a better, more conservative Bible.
    How consistent is that?
    If one is looking for intellectual honesty and consistency, they shouldn’t waste their time with rightwing Evangelical Christians.

  6. When I want to grow up, I want to be like David Barton.

    I want to give myself credentials.

    Who knew that I wasted all those years in college earning my degree in journalism, when I could just declare myself a “historian” or a “scientist” or a “religious studies expert.”

    Mr. Barton has inspired me. I am now going to start calling myself a “historian” as well. After all, I took some history classes in high school and colleges, and I totally have both the History Channel and NatGeo on cable.

    What a tool.

  7. It’s important for everybody who’s disturbed about all this crap to remember who called Barton et al. out from under their rocks to do their nefarious bidding. Rick Perry and his ilk.
    It’s important that a sustained effort is made to change the political landscape in Texas. It’s not going to be easy. The national situation should be enough warning that these people will be vicious in their desperation and will leverage any minute advantage they may seize.
    The responsible adults in our society are going to have to be on their game, utterly ferocious, and will have to persevere long past the point of exhaustion in order to get these whacks out of positions of responsibility.

  8. It seems to me it is Texans who are electing the Texas Board of Education members. As a Baylor ’62 religion major grad, it is most depressing that the Constitution is being so totally distorted by the religion right wing. My recent book The Religion Commandments in the Constitution was recently released to correct the right wing’s misinformation and this blog may a good place to help get its message out: The Religion Commandments in the Constitution: A Primer, by Gene Garman, M.Div.

    Here is a review from Kirkus Discoveries: “Garman does a great service by bringing together many primary source texts crucial to understanding the American debate … effectively argued … required reading … persuasive.”

    From the book: “It is the religion commandments in the Constitution which should be hung on every court room wall, posted and taught in every American public school, and monumentalized throughout America, not the Jewish commandments of Moses, or of any religion,” p. 19, The Religion Commandments in the Constitution, a textbook for understanding the three religion commandments in the Constitution for the United States of America.

    By the way, if those of you on this blog and TFN will quit distorting the wording of the Constitution, via use of “church and state,” the Constitution will be much better understood. As Glenn Beck says on page 287 of his nonsense in Arguing with Idiots, in respect to the words “church and state”: “They’re not there.” He is correct. So, stop using the words “church and state.” The word in the Constitution is “religion,” the whole subject of “religion.” Get the words of the Constitution into your head and you will have a winning argument. The Founding Fathers and the First Congress got the wording correct from the beginning. So, stop distorting the words they wrote: It is “religion” which shall not be established by law–DUH! You guys in Texas continue to let Barton control you. As Dr. Bill Pinson used to say at Southwestern seminary, “God gave us brains to use, not to sit on.” It is time you all read a good book on the subject and destroy the silly argument of David Barton and the “religious” right wing. I would think that after all these years of losing to Barton, you would want to defeat his misinformation and start winning the constitutional argument.

    See this YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yb7SbUWw9dM and pass it on to your email lists.

    Gene Garman, M.Div.
    Pittsburg, KS

  9. Thank you, Mr. Garman,
    Your argument and your attitude are well taken. We need to systematically and strategically put these liars in their place. We need to have our facts in order and we need to take the media offensive and put these people back on their heels. Eventually they’ll crawl back under the rocks they came from.

  10. We continue to mistakenly believe that the regigious right segment of the SBOE really cares or listens to arguments counter to their positions. They are going to do what they have the power to do no matter what others may think, say, or believe. These open forums are for them laughable, just something to put up with until they can vote their way. They seem to understand only one thing: power.

  11. Exactly.
    This is ALL about power. That’s why we need to educate people so that they’re beyond their reach. I firmly believe if a person has the knowledge he/she will make his/her mind up for him/her-self.
    The atheists among us need the educated, intellectually honest Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. and vice versa. We have to stand together against these Orwellian wannabe totalitarians.

  12. I beg to differ a bit. It’s not really about power. It’s about something else. It is about people who think they are so right that they could never even consider the possibility that they might be wrong, and from this position of omniscience, they believe that they are rescuing angels who have come to save “lesser men than themselves” (read that as everyone else) from disasterous consequences that only they can foresee.

    It reminds me of a piece of candy—a rich nougat of ignorance covered with a thick layer of human pride (the bad Biblical kind)—sprinkled with shaved nuts and fruits—and packed for sale in an all-white box.

  13. Rev. Soper, can you help us with one important question — and this is totally sincere and not snarkish in the least. What we are seeing here is a very focused example of an argument which many of us are dealing with in many other contexts, from Prop 8 to Health Care to tax policy, through the entire religious right wing agenda — particularly dangerously in the Seven Mountains theology and actions of such as Lou Engle and the IHOP.

    How do you deal democratically with — in fact, how do you maintain democracy in the the face of — opposition which has already concluded it has ‘The Truth” and that any person providing evidence against their assertions simply shows — in ascending malignity —
    a) that all the evidence is not in and they can be disregarded since they will (and must) be shown wrong;
    b) that such person is either a dupe of, or part of, the conspiracy to supress the truth
    c) that such a conspiracy is — literally — Satanic.

    How do you deal with people who are taught that ‘doubt is sinful’ that ‘critical thinking’ leads to doubt, and that whatever their pet preacher says is the word of God? And how do you ‘turn them back’ when they have begun swapping paranoias the way I used to swap baseball cards, so that an absurdly weak Health Care Reform is ‘a radically socialist government take over of the health care system,’ that ‘global warming’ is an atheist attack on God’s power, and that swine flu vaccination is part of a conspiracy to genocidally shrink the world’s population? (All these positions have been supported, btw, by Janet Folger Porter at Faith2Action, and she’s the ‘Values Voter Consultant’ for the ‘sane, humane Christian’ Mike Huckabee.)

    How do we defeat them, and save Democracy while doing it?

  14. Well, Prup. I have a little bit of an answer to a small part of your concern. Back in my Southern Baptist days (1980s), it was not uncommon for the pastor to thunder out in a sermon, “Heaven is not a democracy!!! It is a kingdom ruled absolutely by God.”

    In the fundie community, that sets up a bit of philosophical tension. They claim to believe strongly in the democratic principles of the American republic, but on another level, they are citizens of another and higher kingdom that is in effect a monarchical dictatorship. When you spend as much time as they do in the Old Testament (while largely ignoring the New Testament), another layer of tension develops. The Old Testament God appears to spend most of his time in a perpetual state of anger towards human beings and behaving like the Queen of Hearts in Wonderland. Contrarily, the New Testament God is like Jesus—kind—-loving—forgiving—understanding. So, this other layer of tension raises the question of whether God is a despotic monarchical dictator or a benevolent monarchical dictator.

    I think this colors quite a bit of their thinking and actions.

  15. Some might say that the “urge” to believe oneself “right” in this context is a communication about power on a socio-biological level.
    This whole “control freak” issue is bound up in a pathology surrounding the semiotics of submission/dominance, anger,and the instincts of survival that drive emotions of fear and loathing toward the other, etc.
    They try to put on the charade that they’re acting out of “love” and “kindness” toward their fellow man, as they were instructed by Christ, but the truth always manifests itself sooner or later.
    The political power issue is abstracted out of these more visceral concerns.
    The media has been manipulated to generate fear since 9/11, to drive a sinister agenda that has nothing to do with a “war on terrror.”
    We’ve had many times more deaths on the nation’s highways during the last nine years than we have lost to terror.
    We may have lost more due to bathtub accidents, for that matter.
    This fear and loathing, this hysteria, this detachment from rationality, is stimulated at an instinctive level. It’s hard to sustain that kind of “hormonal” approach to governance forever. Especially when the opposition remains calm, composed, focused, with reality and the facts on their side.
    We have to defeat them one person at a time, one incident, one issue at a time. Over and over and over. Look at history. The human race has repeatedly been stuck out on a limb chasing after a bad idea. Sometimes tragically. However, the tide of critical thinking, rationality, reality, has always washed back in to drown out the bad idea.
    We just have to keep at it to keep America from going the way of Nazi Germany.

  16. Right now, this “evangelical” or “fundamentalist” approach to religion is forcing a political cohesiveness. Ultimately, these churches are actually in competition for “souls” (and their money). Underlying all the hooha are (1).responsive and responsible social institutions and (2.) rackets. You can argue amongst yourselves which is the scam and which is the sanctuary.
    Eventually these various sects and churches will take aim against one another.

    Here’s an article posted on Religion Dispatches, (link below)

    Susan Harding’s Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics (Princeton U. Press, 2001) shows how leaders of the New Christian Right (NCR) purposefully hone a rhetoric that creates “gaps” of credibility for listeners. Such gaps continually challenge people who are tempted by NCR rhetoric to reaffirm loyalty to their leaders—and by extension to burn bridges that could change them from believers to skeptical outsiders. The more outrageous the gaps, the more that reaffirming loyalty in the face of them allows conservatives to maintain their self-image as misunderstood and persecuted.


    Eventually this hysteria, visceral instinct, fear and loathing, approach wears off, and these groups will eventually start losing members and power.
    That is, If the responsible adults keep the truth front and center and force these people to make continually increasing demands on their flocks’ credulity.

  17. Or David, just to agree with you, as Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” er somethin’ like that.

  18. I just hope we don’t have to make that arc too long, or torturous. The people that care will have to persevere, be stubborn, alert, support the institutions that keep truth and impartial history and honest reporting alive etc.
    The major single unifying influence on these people is the abortion issue. They hope to keep the “scab ripped off this wound” with “abstinence only” sex education. That’s going to go by the wayside. Women are becoming a stronger political force, and there will be more emphasis placed on effective health education, and more responsibility demonstrated by young men.
    When that happens, there will be fewer and fewer abortions. That debate will lose its capacity to unify the more hysterical sects with the less hysterical and more historical sects, like Catholicism. The Catholics have already gone on record as accepting scientific evidence regarding evolution, geological history, man-made climate change, etc.
    The televangelists have the problem of being a substitute for church for a lot of the people who are too lazy and passive to get up on Sundays, miss their football game, etc., and simultaneously being a “tv show”. When they start to lose audience ratings, they’ll have to make changes.
    Another big force driving these evangelical groups are the alcoholics and drug addicts that accept this dogma as their “higher power” as part of their 12 step program. These folks are among the most fanatical. This will die out eventually, as we find new ways of treating addiction.
    Back to gender. This evangelical movement makes a big deal out of preserving the patriarchy, which appeals to men who feel threatened by gender equity in the workforce, the rising political power of women, etc. This will subside in time.
    So, peel back the layers. Deconstruct the whole phenomenon. The issue is whether the reactionaries can create a “Fortress Texas” that can insulate itself (temporarily) against change.

  19. The Founding Fathers got it right from the beginning, which makes the words of the Constitution so significant. If the issue is in respect to “religion, neither Congress nor government at any level (Fourteenth Amendment) is to establish “religion” (First Amendment), and “no religious” test (Art. 6.) shall ever be required. It is the whole subject of “religion” which is not to be established by law at any level of American society. In the USA “religion” is to be voluntary, not imposed by law or government. Nevertheless, as the Father of the Constitution wrote, “strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history” (c.1817), William and Mary Quarterly 3:555.

    The Constitution says what it means and means what it says. It is “religion” which shall not be established by Congress, state legislators, public school boards, county and city commissioners, or government at any level. The Constitution is talking about the whole subject of “religion” and commands that “religion” shall not be established. The words “church and state” are not in the Constitution. It is way past time for TFN, and those who object to the distortions of David Barton and the “religious” wrong, to themselves stop distorting what the Constitution says and uphold the actual words of the Constitution. Understanding what the Constitution says about “religion” is as simple as reading its words.

    “It is the religion commandments in the Constitution which should be hung on every court room wall, posted and taught in every American public school, and monumentalized throughout America, not the Jewish commandments of Moses or of any religion,” p. 19, The Religion Commandments in the Constitution: A Primer.

  20. I notice that many who object to the church and state argument to seperate religion from the government do not offer sound arguments with references or you only read a portion of a quote or document and not in its full context. This was not the mindset of the founding fathers. David displays original documents and quotes in there full context that you can go back read for your selves. Many objectors just basically say he is lying and start calling him names, or give a quote out of context. This does not win over truly objective people looking to find truth. I live in DC and I can see first hand the scripture references and biblical icons all over our national monuments, supreme court and inside the capitol building. Anyone with a objective mind without knowing American history would instantly get the idea that the founding fathers of this nation had a strong belief or at least a strong respect for the Christian God who is God of all. I challenge objective minded people to look at Davids American Heritage series and do the research for yourself or are you afraid that true research may destroy your ideological concept. He is showing you where he got the information. Dont let bias people right or left decieve you. If you have a truly objective mind you will see that the evidence to the contrary of many of the post here is overwhelming.

  21. No.
    The primary authors of our founding documents were mostly men of the Enlightenment. Some were Christians. Christian churches have thrived as institutions throughout our history, due to the secular nature of our government. We don’t need to change that.
    I don’t care which sects the Founding Fathers belonged to. I make my religious decisions on my own. I’m not going to accept anyone’s authority in imposing their religious beliefs on me. Period.