The Real Problem With David Barton’s Influence on Politicians

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 10, 2013 — 37 Comments

On Sunday, Politico published a lengthy piece exploring why Christian pseudo-historian David Barton has retained his political influence and popularity despite recent blunders with his highly questionable view of history. In short, he never backed down, accused his critics of being partisan operatives, and simply waited for the attention span of the American public to move on.

David Barton

David Barton

“Barton has bounced back. He has retained his popular following and his political appeal — in large part, analysts say, because he brings an air of sober-minded scholarship to the culture wars, framing the modern-day agenda of the religious right as a return to the Founding Fathers’ vision for America. ‘It has been shocking how much resistance there is to critically examining what Barton says,’ said Scott Culpepper, an associate professor of history at Dordt College who has critiqued Barton’s scholarship. ‘I really underestimated the power of the political element in evangelicalism.’ In March, Barton gave his presentation on America’s biblical heritage to dozens of state legislators in Kansas. In May, he spoke at the official National Day of Prayer breakfast at the Fort Leonard Wood Army base in Missouri. He rallied activists at the National Right to Life Convention in June with a rousing speech drawing on the Declaration of Independence to make the case for abortion restrictions. Cruz followed Barton in the program and echoed his analysis to thunderous applause.”

Barton has made it clear that in addition to his normal causes, he’s willing to advise the next Republican candidate for United States President.

“Barton hints he’ll soon be back in the arena of presidential politics, advising candidates looking to appeal to the religious right. ‘I remain available to whoever wants to move that ball down the court,’ Barton told POLITICO. [...] ‘Barton has huge standing among “social conservatives that make up a significant base of a caucus electorate,’ said Craig Robinson, editor of The Iowa Republican website. ‘You want to appeal to those people if you’re a Ted Cruz or a Rand Paul.'”

So what makes David Barton different from any number of conservative Christian movers and shakers? Why is The Wild Hunt paying any attention to his political (re-)ascension? Because he’s on-the-record as saying that modern Pagans don’t have constitutional rights.  Back in 2010 Barton’s organization Wall Builders sent in an amicus brief in a case coming before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that involved California’s prison chaplaincy system, a Pagan chaplain, and a policy that limited the hiring of paid chaplains to certain faiths. After a prologue explaining Barton’s bona fides as a historian, the brief gets right to the point.

“…this Brief surveys the historical data to demonstrate that no matter which of several possible definitions is correct, none of them support McCollum’s Amici’s assertion for the simple reason that the Founders did not intend the Religion Clauses to protect paganism and witchcraft [...] 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. [...] There are, of course, references to ‘heathens’ and ‘pagans’ among the writings of the Framers, but there is no indication that those belief systems, including polytheism, are considered ‘religion.'”

There are any number of political and social views participants in a free democratic society should tolerate, but the view that religious minorities, specifically Pagans, shouldn’t have the same rights and protections as Christians isn’t one of them. The fact that Rep. Michelle Bachmann wanted Barton to teach Constitution classes to incoming members of Congress is chilling once you remember that he’s convinced the Constitution only protects Christians. So consider this post a place-holders of sorts, a reminder to watch the race for the U.S. Presidency in 2016. Anyone who would invite Barton on as an advisor, seek his endorsement, or use him as point-person for evangelical outreach is inviting someone who stands against a pluralistic and inclusive society. This isn’t about partisanship, it’s about the simple fact that our leaders, no matter their party, should accept the basic premise that religious freedom and religious protections are for all religions.

A final point: America’s Founders new exactly what their new Constitution would do, and that it would even protect us Pagans someday.

“The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read, “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.”Thomas Jefferson

The notion that our Founders were blind to our possible emergence is revisionist folly.

 

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • NeoWayland

    Folks probably already know this, but this brand of revisionism uses hard confrontation with constantly escalating stakes. You can’t win against it by being loud, that just makes you the closest and biggest target.

    • cernowain greenman

      When I was visiting the Smithsonian a couple years back, I was in a room dedicated to Thomas Jefferson. One of the security (not a tour guide) was there telling people how the Founding Fathers were all Christian believers, including Thomas Jefferson. I spoke up and began to mention his scissored up version of the New Testament and she just kept shouting over me and I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I didn’t come to get in a shouting match, so I just walked away. I wish now I’d have gotten her name and let the management know what she was doing.

  • http://www.bryonmorrigan.com/ Bryon Bragason von Ringer

    And frankly, it’s the support that Barton receives from Conservatives and Republicans that makes it absolutely despicable when a so-called “Pagan” or “Heathen” supports one of these Conservative Christo-Fascists who sing his praises…

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Barton can really have only one effect on the election, turning out the religious right. 2012 was a turnout contest, and the Democrats won. If Barton’s ideas surface in the 2016 election the GOP can be framed as captive to dangerous extremists, drawing Independents to the Democratic side.Republicans know this; a current effort of the GOP establishment is to keep the likes of Michelle Bachmann out of the debates.

    • Deborah Bender

      That might be true for the Presidential election, but we also need to pay attention to state and local races.

      I’m a RINO (Republican In Name Only). Years ago, I changed my registration to Republican for the single purpose of voting against Christian Right candidates in primaries, because they are enemies of almost everything I favor. There are states and counties where your primary vote might make the difference between a moderate or secular conservative and a candidate of the religious right getting the GOP nomination and very possibly being elected. If you regularly vote in primary elections, please consider registering Republican. It costs nothing, your friends will never know, and you can vote for the candidate of another party in the general election.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        I limited my remark to the presidential election because that’s what Barton offered his services for. We certainly need to tend to what’s down the ballot.

      • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

        Here in North Carolina, if you are registered as Unaffiliated-as I am- then you can vote in any party’s primary, but can only participate in one.

  • cernowain greenman

    I think readers have a clue to the Barton book with the word “lies” on the front cover.

  • Elizabeth Creely

    Nice work.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    What if the majority were to agree with him? Hypothetical situation – A Republican candidate gets in and uses this guy as an advisor.

    The world has already seen that ‘constitutional protection’ extends only as far as the bullet proof box it is kept in.

    What then? What happens when a minority is not favoured by the majority?

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Actually, that might be better than Dubya, whose anti-Paganism was mostly behind the scenes, like the long slog to get the Pentacle approved for headstones. Barton would push open, assertive unconstitutional acts that could serve as a stimulus and rallying point for opposition. (Can you tell I was in my twenties in the Sixties?)

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Yes, but what happens when that opposition is a distinct minority?

        If the minority wins, that is a nail in the coffin of democracy, isn’t it?

        If the majority wins, that is just tyranny of the masses.

        • kenofken

          That all falls under checks and balances, and it’s a handy thing to have a Bill of Rights and a case law tradition rooted in that. The majority gets its way, up to the point that their will has to be balanced against the minority rights, including civil rights which are not considered negotiable or subject to public sentiment.

          Guys like Barton are not some new phenomenon, and we needn’t wonder over what to do if they somehow return. We’ve been there already. During the Bush years, evangelicals who were every bit as nutty as him had the run of the White House. They were pretty open in their contempt for us, including the president himself and guys like Bob Barr, who tries to hustle as a “libertarian” these days.

          These guys didn’t just deny us headstones. They wanted to ban the practice of pagan religion on military bases. They were very open and persistent in pushing a Christian dominionist theocratic agenda in every avenue of public policy.

          We had the law on our side. All we had to do is fight, and stay with that fight and ride them down until they did the right thing and recognized our rights. It’s hard work, and expensive, and it sucks to think we should ever have to do that in a democracy where those rights have already been established, but it can be done and it has been done and it will be done again if needed.

          Guys like Barton and Barr and Bush and his toadies in the VA for all their bluster, are just garden variety bullies. They’re tough when they have someone at a disadvantage, but they have no internal strength or honor or rightness in their cause, and they’ll fold if you stand up to them, every time.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            But the law is malleable. That’s the issue. No rights are inalienable.

            The idea of the thought experiment is a mental take on the saying: “Si vis pacem, para bellum.”

    • kenofken

      The Barton/angry fundie wing of the GOP is nowhere near having majority support in this country. Depending how you measure, they have, maybe, 20, 25%, and the GOP’s attempts to indulge their idiocy have made the party absolutely un-electable at the presidential level.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Hence the ‘hypothetical’ situation.

    • TadhgMor

      A mixture of long legal battles and I would expect some radicalization among the pagan community.

      Generally though the courts would push back against overreach.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        How did that work for the Patriot Act?

        • TadhgMor

          People didn’t personalize the Patriot Act in the same way. It’s different than legislation that people feel is targeting “their group” in some way.

          Perhaps it’s not a rational difference, but it is one.

          • kenofken

            It’s a very different problem because it’s rooted in a paranoid national security stance and carried out by a police state/surveillance apparatus with little oversight and extreme secrecy. Even in the case of the Patriot Act, the courts have reigned some things in, and we’re seeing a backlash in the wake of the Snowden revelations, and from major internet companies who are seeing their overseas expansion possibilities evaporate as people lose confidence in the security of their information.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            The basics of it are not all that different, since it showed that the constitution is, essentially, worthless to the government.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Some people did. But they were such a minority that their voices were drowned out by the majority.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          While the Patriot Act did set the frame for a potential police state, it has not been used in that way (much). The USA does not have the look and feel of a police state (for most folks) and so the Patriot Act slips under the radar.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            From an outsider, it looked like it trod roughshod all over your constitution, and people didn’t seem overly concerned. Since then, the powers have got even worse (and the US administration seems to think it means it gives them the power to snoop on the whole world.)

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            People didn’t seem overly concerned because the country, mostly, doesn’t have the look and feel of, say, Occupation Paris. That’s my point.
            Snoop on the whole world? Every intelligence agency on Earth does its best to spy on the whole world. We just happen to have the best toys.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Yes, but the US got caught in a pretty big way. Lots of people over here are really not happy about it, too.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I know the feeling. A lot of us in the USA were distressed with Britain became such a locked-down state during the Troubles.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            A lot of Britain still harbours a grudge for US funding of the IRA.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I’m sure we’d feel likewise if Britons funded Al Qaeda.
            It sometimes got kind of silly over here. I remember a suburban city council meeting — I was a council-watcher for a neighborhood association newsletter — at which an Irish-American councilman jousted with an English-American mayor over something involving the Canadian counsel in Cleveland.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Over here my fiancée got to watch one of her best friends get blown up.

            She was eight.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            My sympathies. That’s terrible.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            In fairness, she was an army brat. It was much more high risk for the military than civilians (like me).

  • TadhgMor

    I absolutely loathe Barton, and that Politico piece (where they called him a historian) drove me nuts. I’m currently working on my undergraduate thesis in history. Barton would have barely passed the intro courses I took years ago. He is not a historian. He is not a scholar. He is a bigoted preacher, and nothing more.

    His ilk want a fight, and personally I’m more than willing to respond if they push the matter. But I highly doubt they will. It is rhetoric designed for internal politics primarily. I keep a close eye on who associates with him and others like him though.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      How do you silence a wagging tongue that is deaf to all reason?

      • kenofken

        You don’t. You stand back and let the fool talk and let him reveal himself for what he really is. That’s how the Tea Party imploded. If we had silenced them or secreted them off to some prison, they would have been martyrs. In the best American tradition, we let them talk as much as they wanted. They came up with public relations coups like “legitimate rape”…..

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          That sometimes doesn’t work.

          In the UK, for example, we have the BNP, who now have an MEP. They were treated as marginal and ‘silly’. By not being taken seriously, they have appealed to a growing number of people who feel disenfranchised.

          Even if they do not get power, they stir up a resentful undercurrent.

      • Charles Cosimano

        You can’t and if you try you leave yourself open to counterattack. All you can do is let him talk and then roll the laugh track. Get people laughing at him and you win. Try to silence him and you make him a martyr.