Is David Barton Telling the Truth?

That’s one of the questions at issue in Barton’s lawsuit. Barton is charging W.S. Smith, a writer for the Fort Worth Atheism Examiner, with defamation for labeling Barton a “liar” in a story published on the Examiner website last year.

But part of establishing a legitimate libel claim is, of course, demonstrating that the claim made about you is not true. Truth, as the saying goes, is an absolute defense against defamation.

In what is — to my mind — the most insightful profile of Barton yet written, Nate Blakeslee of Texas Monthly tells about a first-hand experience with Barton’s dishonesty. You be the judge of whether the label “liar” fits.

“WHAT SEEMS TO HAVE OFFENDED Barton most about his critics is their questioning not his competence but his honesty. (‘I mean, this is what we do,’ Cheryl [Barton’s wife] said, pointing to the stacks of material in the vault. ‘We’re not trying to fool anybody.’) But honesty has been a problem for Barton over the years and still is…

Perhaps the most embarrassing gaffe Barton has been accused of is an egregious mischaracterization of Jefferson’s famous letter to the Danbury Baptists. Barton allegedly said that Jefferson referred to the wall of separation between church and state as ‘one-directional’ — that is, it was meant to restrain government from infringing on the church’s domain but not the other way around. There is no such language in the letter. This mistaken quote does not appear on Barton’s list of retractions, however, and when I asked Barton about it, he denied ever having misquoted Jefferson’s letter in any of his publications. He claimed instead that unspecified critics had merely heard him mention the ‘one-directional wall’ in a speech and that he had in fact been summarizing Jefferson’s general views on the First Amendment, not purporting to paraphrase or quote from the Danbury Letter. In other words, his critics had dishonestly taken his words out of context to make him look bad.

For whatever reason, Barton is not telling the truth. The mistake in question comes from a 1990 version of Barton’s video America’s Godly Heritage. Here are Barton’s exact words from the tape:

‘On January 1, 1802, Jefferson wrote to that group of Danbury Baptists, and in this letter, he assured them — he said the First Amendment has erected a wall of separation between church and state, he said, but that wall is a one-directional wall. It keeps the government from running the church, but it makes sure that Christian principles will always stay in government.’

In a later version of the video, Barton carefully fixed this mistake, so it’s not something he could have forgotten.”

13 thoughts on “Is David Barton Telling the Truth?

  1. Virtually everything out of his mouth is a lie. If you wanted to create a fictional, lying, right-wing nutcase, it would be difficult to create one any more ridiculous and dishonest than Barton.

  2. On the cover of one of Barton’s books there is a depiction of George Washington on his knees praying to God for help durning the winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge. This is problematic, the majority opinion of historians is that event this never actually occurred. Why do they think that? Well first of all account was not published anywhere until almost 30 years after the fact – 1806. The time lag is troubling. And it first came to light in a book written strictly for financial gain. The author saw an opportunity to profit by marrying George Washington to the religious revival that took place in America just after the turn of the century. The author claimed his source for the information was a woman who had observed the event. However she died some time in the late 1780s so…………..well draw your own conclusions.

    It’s neither appropriate or responsible to grace the cover of a book with such an historically questionable event.

  3. OK, for your Barton pleasure here’s Chris Rodda’s takedown of some of Barton’s lies. On her blog Chris has a plea: David Barton, please sue ME!

    Part 1 documents Barton lying on radio with a made-up story. Part 2 goes into one of Barton’s tropes that John Adams “believed” in a Christian government. Patently false, but Barton has to both lie and rely upon the ignorance of his audience (and he is careful to only speak in front of ignorant audiences).

  4. Barton is really a Chinese implant, as in China, everything is in context with keeping face the imperative grace. If it doesn’t fit the current reality, or more importantly, the current blather position, it isn’t relevant. Don’t confuse the argument with the facts!

  5. Holy moly, Charles.
    Frankly, I wish there was a middle ground where Christians could express themselves without trampling on others’ rights in a public school context.
    It would have made a difference probably, if they hadn’t made a habit of bullying people over religious issues.

    The die is cast. This is one major reason there’s a big push to privatize schools. Some think that will make the schools safe for Christian indoctrination.

  6. I say again: Barton having brought this libel suit is a debunking opportunity not to be missed. If Bell-Metereau’s and Jennings’ lawyers see it the same way, this could be the beginning of the end for St. Dave. It’s one thing to spout off his crackpot junk in front of audiences composed of lunkheads and cheap right-wing pols, but it’s another thing to be deposed, and if it comes to trial, to be cross-examined, by unpleasantly dogged and rational opposing counsel, under oath with perjury penalties looming behind. The way I see it, Barton starting this litigation could – and should – be a monumental act of self-destructive hubris on his, and his lawyer(s)’, part.

  7. Rebecca’s billionaire father could make this really hard on Barton because his access to legal support is virtually unlimited. If Barton was hoping for a scare on some street urchin and a quick out-of-court settlement, he has barked up the wrong tree.

  8. Dang. The above post is from me. It did that doggone anonymous thing on me again. Frankly, I don’t know if her dad is a billionaire or not. I would have no idea. I just hoped he might visit TFN every once in a while, read that, and soil his panties.

    Personally, if I were Rebecca’s dad and I were a billionaire, I would buy the finest defense team in the nation, give it a $1billion budget, and hire a team of the best historians in the nation to take a close look at everything Barton has ever written or said—and stand it up against the real historical record. I would then put the results into a documentary film and pay all of the major TV channels and cable channels, including the religious channels, a small fortune to run it in prime time once per month for an entire year. I would then pay a traveling road show to carry it to all the churches. Unless I miss my guess, the Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical religious channels would jump at the opportunity to show the film because they know what this country’s real god is—money.

  9. Sorry, Charles, your plan won’t work. Remember that con artist on the SciFi channel who could talk to the dead? A group filmed him behind the scenes as his “people” talked with audience members before the show, gleaning personal information.

    Poor uncle Fred died in a lumberjacking accident. “Oh, I’m getting a sense of flannel and a forest..” “Uncle Fred!”

    Nope, Barton has been exposed and overexposed. The true believers and knuckleheads will be unmoved.