By Joseph L. Conn
David Barton is the scariest Religious Right leader you never heard of.
But that’s beginning to change. Today, The New York Times offered readers a front-page report on Barton, a “self-taught historian who is described by several conservative presidential aspirants as a valued adviser and a source of historical and biblical justification for their policies.”
Times reporter Erik Eckholm tells us that Barton gives some 400 speeches a year and is “so popular that evangelical pastors travel across states to hear his rapid-fire presentations on how the United States was founded as a Christian nation and is on the road to ruin, thanks to secularists and the Supreme Court, or on the lost political power of the clergy.”
The Times says prominent political leaders such as Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and Representative Michele Bachmann seek Barton’s advice and praise his take on history.
There’s just one problem with that: Barton’s history is bunk.
As church-state scholar Derek H. Davis told The Times, “The problem with David Barton is that there’s a lot of truth in what he says. But the end product is a lot of distortions, half-truths and twisted history.”
That’s putting it mildly. Barton’s goal is to turn America into a fundamentalist Christian theocracy where folks with his faith perspective rule the roost and everyone else is, at best, a second-class citizen. And he’s using a skewed sectarian version of history to move us toward that goal.
Barton’s degree is in Christian education from Oral Roberts University. He isn’t a historian; he’s a Religious Right propagandist.
As The Times mentions, we at Americans United have been on Barton’s case for years.
My AU colleague Rob Boston wrote one of the first exposes of the tall-tale-telling Texan back in 1993. And we’ve done others since then. Unfortunately, Barton’s package of prevarications continues to spread. (As he noted in an interview with Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show,” Barton has even worked on the social studies standards in Texas and California.)
Bottom line: America was founded as a nation where religion and government are kept separate for the benefit of both. Those of us who want to preserve that critically important constitutional distinction must stand ready to refute the David Bartons of the world and warn Americans of the Religious Right’s insidious agenda.