This past week saw a flood of new coverage and commentary concerning Christian pseudo-historian David Barton thanks to a New York Times profile and a much-discussed appearance on The Daily Show. The wave of media attention is due to his standing with three possible Republican presidential candidates, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and Representative Michele Bachmann. While I appreciate the various examinations and criticisms about Barton that have popped up as a result, none have broached one of the most troubling views Barton peddles to his admirers and followers.
“The true historic meaning of “religion” excludes paganism and witchcraft, and thus, does not compel a conclusion that McCollum has state taxpayer standing … paganism and witchcraft were never intended to receive the protections of the Religion Clauses. Thus, in the present case there can be no violation of those clauses … Should this Court conclude that McCollum has taxpayer standing … this Court should at least acknowledge that its conclusion is compelled by Supreme Court precedent, not by history or the intent of the Framers.”
That quote is from an amicus brief written by Barton in the case of Patrick M. McCollum; et al., v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, currently before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. McCollum v. CDCR centers on the state of California’s discriminatory “five faiths” policy, which limits the hiring of paid chaplains to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American adherents. Right there, on the record, Barton straight-up denies Pagans equal religious protections under the law. This is why I become concerned when politicians say his views should be taught in public schools. Not because he’s Christian, or a bad historian, but because he flatly denies minority faiths equal treatment under the constitution. If the mainstream media had any teeth, they would be pressing Barton, and any politician who seeks his approval, on this issue.
The fact is that early Americans did indeed consider the issue of non-Christians gaining equal rights under the constitution, and spoke (and debated) at great length on the subject. The idea that the Free Exercise Clause doesn’t apply to non-Christians is dangerous, ahistorical, and stupid. That Barton is preaching this lie weakens the very foundations he claims to revere. The fact is that the Founders were educated and far-sighted men who understood quite well what they were constructing and its implications. Barton would have them be short-sighted dolts. So long as the depth of Barton’s extremism is glossed over, we’ll never get a chance to pin him down on this very, very important issue.