The Real Problem With David Barton’s Influence on Politicians

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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.