Exposing David Barton’s Bad History

David Barton might be a popular speaker in conservative circles and considered a “historian” and “constitutional expert” by politico-entertainers like Glenn Beck and politicians like Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. But a scholar’s new review of Barton’s American history textbook (yes, he has one) exposes the Texan’s simplistic, selective and ideologically distorted accounts of the nation’s early history. The review by Prof. Steven K. Green for the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund is available here.

Unlike Barton, Prof. Green really is an expert in constitutional law and history. He currently is a constitutional scholar, historian and law professor at Willamette University in Oregon. He also serves as director of the Willamette Center for Religion, Law and Democracy.

Prof. Green explains how Barton’s Drive Thru History America is peppered with factual inaccuracies, offers a simplistic and glorified view of the nation’s early history and promotes a sectarian perspective clearly intended to proselytize students. Prof. Green writes:

“[The textbook] displays a clear devotional tone and contains a number of religious truth-claims that cross the line into promotion of a particular religion. Beyond this, the curriculum presents a problematic historical account of the founding period that falls well outside mainstream scholarly understanding, providing inaccurate, incomplete and biased profiles of various leading figures from that era.”

Barton and co-author Nita Thomason developed the textbook and accompanying materials for students in Grades 6-12. A promotional website markets the textbook for use in both private and public schools. Those materials focus on the nation’s founding period and on selected historical figures, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Abigail Adams. And their profound disrespect for the religious freedom of parents is as objectionable as their distortions of history. Prof. Green writes:

“Inculcating a ‘Christian worldview’ or persuading students to ‘repent’ and ‘listen to God’ is a responsibility that belongs solely with a parent or religious congregation. For a public school to utilize curricular materials toward this end is not only a clear Constitutional violation, it is a betrayal of the trust parents place in public schools.”

The Texas Freedom Network has posted Prof. Green’s review and other information about Barton and his political work in a new David Barton Watch section of our website.

6 thoughts on “Exposing David Barton’s Bad History

  1. Now let us expose the distorted history promoted by The Texas Freedom Network, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (for which organization I used to be on the staff as a regional director with an office in Chicago), the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs (organized by Professor James E. Wood Jr., under whom I studied at Baylor University, where I majored in religion and history), as well as the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and etc., all of whom have, in the past and in the present, promoted a major distortion of constitutional principle. No organizations have, unfortunately, more seriously misstated the constitutional issue, with years of unrelenting use of the “separation of church and state” terminology, which is in contrast to the clearly stated terminology of the Constitution.

    The result of such inaccurate repetition by the above organizations, as well as others, is the development of a mindset which causes the average American, as well as Barton, to be misinformed as to what the Founding Fathers and the First Congress actually stated and commanded in the specific principles of the Constitution and First Amendment: it is a “religious” test which shall not be required and it is “religion” which shall not be established by Congress or any other governmental organization, not just a “church.” The words “church and state” are not in the Constitution and are a specific distortion of constitutional principle.

    From early on and year after year, the literal constitutional principle has been abused and misstated, typically by use of Thomas Jefferson’s misrepresentation in his letter to the Connecticut Baptists. It is way past time to correct the record and promote the wording of the Constitution. “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 established in their short history,” James Madison, c. 1817, W&MQ, 3:555. That encroachment is based upon a distortion of what the Constitution actually and specifically states.

    Therefore, stop using the word “church” when discussing the constitutional principle. It is the entire subject of “religion” which shall not be established by law or government at any level of our society, and it is that message which needs to be promoted and heard throughout America.

  2. Actually Gene. I used your distinction in some posts related to an ACLU lawsuit against my old school system from my kiddy days. I did not get a single retort about “separation of church and state” not being words in the constitution. It does have a certain level of disarming effect. I’ll give you that. However, I think you are being a little hard on TFN. They are really quite effective in what they do.

  3. Actually, Charles, the words “church and state” are not in the Constitution and are an obvious distortion of what the Constitution actually says. The preceding proposition is an obviously indisputable fact–the words “church and state” are not in the Constitution. Your retort is obviously absurd!

    Nonetheless, it is also a fact that use of the words “church and state” is an absurd grammatical abuse of the English language, as well as of the Constitution, to which a retort is obviously proper, especially because those words falsely state the constitutional principle, which is specifically about the entire subject of “religion,” an obvious fact, not just about a “church” and/or a “state” church.

    For example, the word “thereof” in the free exercise clause obviously gets its entire meaning from to whatever it (“thereof”) refers. There is no way any English grammarian will assert the word “thereof” can mean “church,” regardless of what the misguided ACLU and TFN claim: the Constitution says what it means and means what it says–the words “church and state” are not in the Constitution. By continuing to use inaccurate terminology, such as “church,” the ACLU and TFN are a part of the problem as to why right wing religion zealots continue to object to separating religion and government at every level of political life in the USA, as commanded by Art. 6., Sec. 3., and the First Amendment.

    So, thanks, Charles, for allowing me to offer my retort of your ineffective reply, which is also why the ACLU and TFN combined have not totally destroyed David Barton and the other dishonest and misguided religionists who continue to assert a revisionist understanding of what the Constitution actually commands in plainly stated words. Do you really believe the words of the Constitution can actually be changed so easily?

    Of course, in respect to this particular subject, you know I promote the best book regarding the specific understanding of what the Constitution actually says and means: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yb7SbUWw9dM .

  4. Gene, it is nice that you have organized the talking points of the religious right to attack TFN but you failed to defend any of the insanity of Mr. Barton. Even if the TFN is incorrect, it doesn’t make Mr. Barton right, he is still a lunatic.

    1. Ralph,

      Obviously, you fail to even comprehend the discussion. TFN encourages the idiot Barton by continuing its use of the words “separation of church and state,” which is exactly the belief of Barton and the religion right: i.e., it is just a national “church” about which the Founding Fathers were objecting to an establishment thereof–which is Barton’s and the religion right’s position. To the contrary, it is the whole subject of “religion” which is not to be established by law or Congress or government at any level. When you have read The Religion Commandments in the Constitution: A Primer and perused my website, americasrealreligion.org, you will learn about what the issue is:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yb7SbUWw9dM .

      You have obviously not been around long enough to know for how long I have been addressing the distorted position of Barton and TFN’s failure to make the distinction. Have you read TFN’s preamble? Jefferson’s letter to the Baptists is an inaccurate understanding of what the Constitution prohibits, and the words “church and state” are not accurate in describing the religion commandments in the Constitution.