Barton’s Contempt for Religious Freedom

So did the nation’s Founders intend the Constitution to treat all Americans equally, regardless of their religion? A court brief recently filed by his Texas-based WallBuilders organization makes it pretty clear that David Barton doesn’t think so.

WallBuilders, which opposes separation of church and state, has filed the brief in a federal appeals court that is considering a religious discrimination case in California. The case involves a Wiccan clergyman the state of California would not hire as a prison chaplain because of his religious beliefs. California law limits the position only to Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Native Americans.

In a post appropriately headlined “Wallbuilders’ Narrow Notion: Religious Liberty For Me, But Not For Thee,” Americans United for Separation of Church and State explains that the WallBuilders brief criticizes a brief submitted earlier by AU in the same case. WallBuilders argues that the AU brief, which supports the Wiccan clergyman’s case, engages in “revisionist history.”

WallBuilder’s argument is nonsense, of course, but Barton should know something about “revisionist history” — it’s something he regularly promotes. The WallBuilders brief touts Barton as “a recognized authority” and “leading scholar” in American history and government because of his “vast collection of rare, primary documents.” But simply collecting artifacts doesn’t make someone a “historian” and certainly not a “leading scholar.” Barton, in fact, has no degree or formal training in either American history or government. His bachelor’s degree is in Christian education from Oral Roberts University. He doesn’t publish peer-reviewed research in social science journals, and his books are largely self-published political tracts. Rather than a “leading scholar,” Barton is a smooth-talking propagandist who distorts history in pursuit of a radical political agenda.

Even so, the WallBuilders brief uses Barton’s trumped-up credentials to justify wading into the case. After that, it’s all about promoting a particular ideological agenda, not real history. In short, the brief is a long-winded justification for allowing — in fact, encouraging — government to engage in religious discrimination.

“(T)he Founders did not intend the Religion Clauses [of the Constitution] to protect paganism and witchcraft,” the brief argues. In fact, the brief says the two can’t even be considered religions under the Constitution. Then WallBuilders goes even further, arguing that the Founders really intended only to protect freedom for monotheistic religions (such as, of course, Christianity). In Barton’s America, the Constitution affords no such protections to followers of polytheistic religions.

WallBuilders also argues that atheists shouldn’t be equal under the Constitution either:

“It is one thing to allow freedom of conscience to all. It is another to trust atheists to testify at trial or hold office. This is so because, if one does not believe in God and in an eternal state of punishment or reward, one has no reason to fear that punishment and thus, the theory goes, will be more likely to engage in immoral or unethical behavior, to the determent of one’s fellow citizens and of society.”

Got that? The guy the Texas State Board of Education put on a panel of “experts” helping revise social studies curriculum standards for public schools runs an organization that argues the Constitution essentially creates two kinds of American citizens: those who believe in approved religions and those who don’t. And government may then discriminate against the latter.

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71 Comments

  1. trog69
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    Okay, I’m sorry. I had no call to be so un-free speechy keen.

  2. David
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    ;^) In my mind I can hear Louis Armstrong, …” and I think to myself, what a wonderful world….”
    “OH, YEAH..!”

  3. Posted February 13, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    The problem is understanding the definition of “religion”? Or of “religious”? These are the two words which the Founding Fathers and the First Congress used in Article 6 and the First Amendment. Apparently, they and I assumed almost everyone in the United States of America would understand the meaning of those words.

    Well then, Webster’s definition: “religion,” “the service and worship of God or the supernatural,” “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices,” and a “religious” ” cause, principle, or system of beliefs.”

    Webster’s definition: “church,” “a body or organization of religious believers.”

    How much more clearly can Webster define what is not to be established by “Congress” or by “law”?

    Does “religion,” by Webster definitions obviously include “church,” “institutionalized systems,” and “beliefs,” such as in Judaism, Christianity, or any other supernatural conclusion? Obviously!

    The entire subject of “religion” is not to be established by law in the USA, wherein “religion” is a voluntary and personal belief, never the business of governmental doctrine, and wherein every citizen has a right to participate fully and freely in all of America’s social and political functions, within the laws of the land. Actions are not above the law, only beliefs.

    It is these definitions of “religion” which the “religious wrong,” the constitutional revisionists, and the David Barton’s of the world reject. They want you to believe the First Amendment says “church.” No, it says “religion,” which includes the whole subject “thereof.” They insist on asserting “God” in the national pledge of allegiance, on keeping a governmental “Office of Faith-based Initiatives,” on establishing “religion” in our public school systems, and of maintaining chaplains in our national Congress and state legislatures.

    That is the social and constitutional battle we are fighting and when we fail to constitutionally frame the debate, we distort the Constitution and weaken the argument. The Founding Fathers and the First Congress got the words correct from the beginning. It is way past time for TFN to understand.

  4. David
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Relax, Cytocop,
    I’ve got Pro. Lakoff’s book. I understand Prof. Garman’s perspective.
    He’s just saying that “religion” is the legally binding word used in the Constitution.
    He’s trying to stay focused on the right-wing’s capability to “frame the debate” by manipulation of meanings. Or mis-manipulation.
    On a different level, “church” could stand in for “religion”. This is an interpretation that issues from a “Christian-centric” viewpoint.
    Or it could be used to infer “church”, temple, mosque, or any other “religious institution”.
    Everybody’s freedom is threatened by the imposition of a “state religion”, even the adherents of the privileged sect. There’s nothing to keep someone from assuming power, maintaining lip service to the sect’s power, and instituting policies directly contradictory to the sect’s doctrine. Putting forth a simulacrum.
    In fact, that’s exactly what’s being done with “Christian” doctrines of greed, gun-worship and violence, fear and loathing of the “other”, interpreting current events to prophesy “end times” etc. which directly contradict the teachings of Christ.
    Government is about power.
    Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
    Etc.
    We share the power through the Constitution. It has to be protected.

  5. Cytocop
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    This is getting tiresome. Prof Garman is stressing the importance of the word “religion” over “church.” Therefore, apparently, the take-home message here is that since “religion” is the word used, then, as a Jew, I’m safe, since it is “religion” that is not to be infringed upon.

    Therefore, since the word is “church” (and Jews, Muslims, and others don’t go to “church”), then it is you Christians to which the constitution is being addressed. In other words, it is you Christians whose rights may be infringed upon.

    So, I’m safe but you Christians are not. Is that the spirit of the Constitution? Apparently, it is. Therefore, I fear for my Christian friends and family whose interpretation of Christianity may not coincide with that of those in power. Your freedom is not constitutionally protected. If you are of the wrong expression of Christianity, you are not under Constitutional protection. Think about it.

  6. Posted February 13, 2010 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Perhaps, I jumped to a conclusion when I asserted about this blog, “By golly, you guys have got it.” Perhaps, some of you do not, and some may not have read Professor Lakoff’s “Don’t Think of an Elephant”? That is, words do mean things. Therefore, do not use words which destroy the essence of your argument, a point any good debater understands. For example, as Glenn Beck so effectively illustrates, the words “church and state” are not in the Constitution, p. 287, Arguing with Idiots. He is exactly right, no one can find those words in the Constitution, so millions read Beck’s books and listen to him every Monday through Friday.

    As I learned during one year at law school, it is the words of the Constitution itself which have legal standing in a court of law. It is the words in the Constitution itself which have constitutional meaning, and there is no way in Hades or in Court you have a winning constitutional argument by changing the word “religion,” in the no establishment of “religion” commandment, to “church” or by distorting the word “thereof,” in the “Free Exercise” commandment, into “the free exercise” of a “church.” Baylor freshman English grammar: the word “thereof” gets it entire meaning from that to which it refers and has exactly the same meaning as the word to which it refers. The “free exercise” of a church? Incorrect.

    By allowing distortion of the words which are actually in the Constitution, you promote the argument of the religious wrong, Justice Rehnquist, and David Barton who all assert the Constitution really does not mean what it says. For example, the Wallbuilders website:

    “The heart of our educational work, and that which makes WallBuilders so unique, is … to document the rich religious and moral history of America as well as to establish the original intent undergirding the various clauses of our Constitution.”

    “WallBuilders is an organization dedicated to … the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built … .”

    “WallBuilders is an organization dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history … .”

    The “original intent” of the Constitution is specifically expressed in its words and those specific words are the supreme law of the land, not the words of “forgotten history.” The word “church” is not in the Constitution.

    What is simple to understand is that TFN too is allowing Barton to control the debate by using inaccurate wording and “forgotten history.”

    By the way, the “free exercise” commandment uses “free” in terms of voluntary exercise, as contrasted to involuntary, by law, exercise. The Free Exercise clause is not a license for anarchy. In the USA “religion” shall not be established by law or Congress or any state (Fourteenth Amendment).

    Barton’s contempt is for the actual words of the Constitution.

  7. trog69
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    David, bingo, my friend. Even if the Constitution had a more Christian flavor to it, that would not excuse the religious right/ideologues to extend it to mean that the US should be governed according to their reading of the bible.

    OT: I’m very happy to note that my niece, who we adopted as a toddler, has a HS science teacher who, along with the principal are fervent believers…in evolution. Whew! Now I can go back to concentrating on helping others elsewhere.

  8. David
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Cytocop,
    I think Prof Garman is stressing a particular, very focused strategy. If we don’t use the exact wording of the Constitution, the opposition will throw up the fact that “church” isn’t mentioned in the legally binding document.

    However, in the broader understanding of Am. history, I agree that honest study will educate citizens to the broader context of the meaning of the language of the founders.

    Finally, one of the most important concepts is that the Constitution was deliberately designed as a living institution, that change was understood to be inevitable, and that it was designed to accomodate changes in society.

    We are where we are. Religious freedom is essential to the survival of the nation. We’re all engaged on this side of the struggle.
    We don’t need to have a bunch of nitwit backwoods fundamentalists imposing their religion on the rest of us.
    PS I was highly entertained watching McLeroy on Youtube. If you haven’t seen it, check it out.
    Speaks volumes.

  9. Cytocop
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Prof. Garman, I have already posted the definitions of “religion” and “church” above, a posting which, of course, was not read. We ALL know the words mean different things. That has been established; thus, you’re being insulting to keep reminding us they are different. I ask SO WHAT because what practical difference have the words meant? As a Jew, am I to be more fearful of discrimination because I’m not a part of the majority ‘religion’ or because I don’t attend ‘church’? You can speak in lofty professorial terms all you want but what really counts is how those lofty words are interpreted and put to use (or non-use).

    So I agree with David: whatever the words of the Constitution are, the spirit of the Constitution remains: keep ‘religion’ and ‘church’ out of government. They have already crept into government far too much, and both the Republicans and Democrats have opened the door that let them in. Why? Because voters have demanded it. And the majority of voters are radcons (radical conservatives). That’s what scares me.

    As for the trinity discussion, I was thinking about Charles’ posting. Judaism and its daughter faith, Islam, have always been unique in their strict monotheism in a world of trinities and polytheism. But just because we are unique doesn’t necessarily make us correct. To take Charles’ idea further, why stop with a trinitarian deity? If One isn’t enough, why assume Three is better? Why not a multiple-bodied deity? If more is better, why not make it more??

    As for David’s posting, yes, there are so many parallels between the faiths. Images of Mary, the “Queen of Heaven,” are exact copies of Ishtar, the “Queen of Heaven.” Even including the circle of stars around their heads.

  10. Posted February 12, 2010 at 2:11 am | Permalink

    Ditto, as well, on Professor George Lakoff–“Don’t think of an elephant,” if you are serious about winning the debate regarding the correct wording as to what the Constitution actually says and means.

  11. Charles
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Ditto on Murdoch.

  12. David
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Cytocop:
    What kind of a huckster?
    Maybe a “Hucksterbee”.
    Hyuk, hyuk…

    Prof. Garman, I agree. We need to keep “religion” from contaminating government.
    However, the fight is really about more than just that issue.
    It’s also about compulsory ignorance.

  13. David
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the links and the thoughts, Charles.

    The little I know about monotheism indicates it began in Persia with Zoroastrianism, which could have influenced developments in Mesopotamia, where the Old Testament begins.

    There are many eerily similar elements to Christian doctrine and the Greek Orphic msyteries, including the Eleusinian mysteries.
    The image of the Mother suckling the child, the father/son/holy ghost , etc, the alpha/omega interface between the earth/tomb and sky, etc.
    My uncle “received” the Holy Ghost in the late ’40’s and has been with the Church of God since. They “speak in tongues”. That tradition of being “possessed” by the Holy Ghost is very similar to the “intoxication” or “madness” of the Maenads or other inititated followers of Dionysus.
    The tradition of “Satan” etc. is very similar of the early “chthonic” gods of the underworld. These were more “primitive” rites which involved sacrifice and ritual observances meant to avert their unlucky or malevolent influence.
    Buddhism came to Japan from China in the 8th Cent. and eventually became accepted comfortably alongside the native Shinto.
    The culture and religion of the inhabitants of Teotihuacan spread through the Mayan world, and probably had a great influence on the development of Pueblo culture along the northern Rio Grande. The Navaho are of a distinct northern Athabascan origin and their language and culture is distinct from the Pueblo.
    Pre-Inca cultures of the Andes, ditto.
    The discussion we’re having is important, and it’s very important to our main focus: Freedom of Religion.
    Our “enemy” are not the “soldiers of Christ” they purport to be. They can’t be, because their side of the argument depends on not just ignoring, but twisting the facts of history and science. As Charles’ Weill quote testifies, truth leads to Christ.
    Otherwise it’s hooey.

    Speaking of Hooey, Countdown with Keith Olberman had Barton featured last night. Apparently Beck is propping him.
    Who is “Satan” on that front? Rupert Murdoch. Opposition to the crimes against humanity by Fox should all be focused on Rupert Murdoch and News Corp.

  14. Posted February 11, 2010 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    So what?

    It is only the words in the Constitution which have supreme legal significance in our legal system, and the word “religion” has a different definition and understanding than does “church.” In his Wallace v. Jaffree dissent, revisionist Justice Rehnquist asserted the First Amendment restricted establishment of “a national religion.” Obviously, the word “national” is not in the First Amendment. Of course, understanding of the First Amendment would be altered if “national” were in the First Amendment. Shall we just allow Supreme Court Justices and everyone else to add words and change the Constitution? For a more thorough dissertation, see Liberty magazine:
    http://www.sunnetworks.net/~ggarman/renabuse.html.

    Because the assertion of “so what” implies something which distorts what the wording of the First Amendment actually says, allow me to again illustrate my point, as I learned in freshman English at Baylor University, by pointing out, the word “thereof” in the exercise clause gets its entire meaning from whatever it is to which “thereof” refers: “thereof” gets its entire meaning from the word “religion,” not to the exercise of a “church.” It is the whole subject of “religion” which shall not be established by law or Congress. The six men on the 1789 joint senate-house conference committee which drafted the First Amendment understood words and the use of proper English. So, when the Rehnquist’s and Barton’s of the world attempt to distort what the First Amendment says, it is correct to remind them of what the First Amendment actually states, if you want the strongest argument in Court. When we allow the “church and state” wording to continue, we continue use of a wording and understanding which has obviously not completely succeeded in court or in the public square, which is why we are still arguing the issue at the state school board level, as well as on a TFN blog.

  15. Ben
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    This goes back to what I said about supernatural claims….

  16. Ben
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    Good thread, guys. Thanks.

  17. Cytocop
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 1:09 am | Permalink

    Charles wrote:

    “Actually, if God exists in another parallel dimension that we call heaven, the trinity might not be such a mystery. It could be some weird thing that can exist, as such, only in a bizarro dimension that our three (our four) dimensional world has no means of conceptually capturing in any meaningful way. As an example, I offer up the strange message from the alien world that they were trying to decipher in the Jodie Foster movie “Contact.” Just a thought.”

    Perhaps. But what makes the Christian trinity the only acceptable one, given the possibility you write above? Why not the Egyptian trinity (Osiris, Horus, Isis), or the Norse (Odin, Frey, Thor), or the Hindu (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva) to name just three examples? What makes these trinities unacceptable and only the Christian one acceptable?

    In addition, there are no less than 31 verses in Tanakh that clearly state that God is One. He/she/it repeates it “I am one….” “There is none besides me,” etc etc etc. In fact, there is no verse that so much as hints that God is not One. The ‘Shema’ (Deut. 6:4) says: Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. (“Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”) It’s as if the writers of Deuteronomy anticipated that later traditions would come along and try to make God into two or more “persons,” as if One was insufficient.

    If none of the above was clear enough, all doubt should be removed with: “God is not a man…” (Number 23:19) and again: “…he is not a man…” (1 Samuel 15:29). Whether one believes what the Bible says or not, I don’t see how it could get any clearer than that. In fact, in either the Numbers or Samuel, either would have been a perfect place for it to be written that “God is not NOW a man, but in the future he’s going to incarnate himself into a man and die, and you must believe in him.” I mean, wouldn’t a loving God want to make that crystal clear somewhere in the Bible? After all, if it’s our very salvation at stake here, wouldn’t a loving God want that known to his creatures?

    And why would God all of a sudden come along in the New Testament and say: Hey guys, I was just joking. I really didn’t mean anything what I said before. I really AM a man. Ha ha. Fooled ya! Suckers!!

    What kind of huckster God is THAT? What would possibly be “his” purpose in performing such charades? His own entertainment??

    So are you saying perhaps God has instructed his creatures in other dimensions or universes his true triune nature but for some reason has hidden the truth from us? Or perhaps “he” has hinted at such by the very existence of those other trinities I mentioned above?

    As for the Simon Weil quote, he could have been speaking as a Jew. Indeed, ‘Israel’ means to strive (or struggle) with God. Best exemplified in the Genesis story where Jacob wrestles an angel (a messenger of God) and is renamed Israel. Abraham argued with God over the matter of Sodom & Gomorrah yet God later refers to Abraham as “my friend.”

    I can’t believe we’re still on the “church” vs “religion” thing. SHEESH! You say To-MAH-to, I say To-MAY-to. Let’s call the whole thing off….and get rational.

    Yes, of course, words have meaning. Take for instance the 6th commandment: “You shall not murder.” (Ex. 20:13). Most Christian Bibles translate ‘l’ritzoach’ as “kill.” This is incorrect. ‘Murder’ is the more accurate translation. We all know murder and kill mean different things. “Church” and “religion” mean different things. The difference between murder and kill is obvious – even on a legal basis. But I fail to see the significance of the difference between “church” and “religion.” They are different but the point is: SO WHAT?

  18. Charles
    Posted February 10, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    David and Ben.

    I was sorting through some papers last night and ran into an old newsletter from a place called the Oregon Extension. It is hard to explain what the Oregon Extension is. Suffice it to say that it is a college semester in the woods run by dedicated nonfundie Christians you guys would love to hang out with for a few days. Don McLeroy and Terri Leo would be absolutely miserable at this place—totally miserable—because they do actual reading of scholarly works, thinking, and creative writing. The attitude is one of allowing the spiritual searcher to search without dogma, a direction, or a preset goal. Wherever you end up is where you end up at the end of the semester. They do things like read and discuss the writings of people like Simone Weil.

    http://oregonextension.org/

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simone_Weil

    The newsletter had an interesting quote from some of Simone Weil’s writings, apparently composed when she was just 16 years of age. I was so struck by this quote that I felt compelled to cut it out of the newsletter and save it. I think the last four lines are particularly compelling. Here it is:

    In my arguments about the insolubility of the problem of God, I had never foreseen the possibility of…a real contact, person to person, here below, between a human being and God. I had vaguely heard tell of things of this kind, but I had never believed in them…. In this sudden possession of me by Christ, neither my sense nor my imagination had any part. I only felt in the midst of my suffering the presence of a love, like that which one can read in the smile on a beloved face. I had never read any mystical works… God in his mercy had prevented me from reading them so that it should be evident to me that I had not invented this absolutely unexpected contact… Yet I still half refused, not my love but my intelligence. For it seemed to me certain, and I still think so today, that one can never wrestle enough with God if one does so out of pure regard for the truth. Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.”

    Simone Weil, Spiritual Autobiography, 16

  19. David
    Posted February 10, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    Agreed.
    My respect for McCain went way up when he was in an early debate with about 10 of the GOP candidates.
    They all embarassed themselves by embracing creationism, he was the only one who expressed a belief in evolution.
    He blew it later on, of course. Now he’s totally cynical in his pandering.
    I agree it’s up to the men and women of conscience in the faith community to start standing up to the extremists.

    I don’t know if I’d call myself a “theist”. I still pray to the same God I did when I was 7 years old, but I don’t know if “He” hears me in the way that other “theists” say he does.
    I’m not a card carrying buddhist, but I lean in that direction.
    I think eventually the elements which these religions share will win out over those things which separate them.
    Have compassion for all living things, witness the miracle that is everyday existence in the present moment,
    what goes around comes around.

    One of the strongest “weapons” we have in this is to remind the bigots that Muslims, Catholics, Jews, atheists, Buddhists, Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, women, gays, just to name a few…Phillipinos, Tongans,…Hindus,…etc, have all fought and died for this country. It’s ours too.

  20. Ben
    Posted February 10, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    I agree with that, David, but I think that unpeeling will require some changes on the part of reasonable theists such as you and Charles. Well, maybe not you two specifically, but people very much like you.

    Here’s what I mean…

    It’s obvious that most political candidates feel the need to mention their faith during the campaign. Even Obama (the socialist Muslim, I tell you!) mentions God occasionally. During the campaign, everyone just had to know what church he attends.

    Why is that? We already know the answer. Most believers are more likely to vote for a candidate who expresses faith. I think the extremists benefit from that. They don’t look as nutty as long as mainstream theists still place any emphasis at all on faith as it pertains to politics.

    So the mainstreamers will need to change that by shunning the discussion of faith within the political arena, and by insisting on separation of religion (not church!) and state, rather than avoiding those discussions. Mainstream theists–not atheists–have the power to bring about the change that could crush the extremists.

    Do you agree?

  21. David
    Posted February 10, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    What we’re dealing with, though, is a double track of mass psychology. One is the matter of belief and faith and having the membership in a group fortify that faith, and the other is the hijacking of that process for “nationalist” political ends.
    This of course isn’t new to America.
    Peeling the community of faith away from this insidious political movement is not going to be easy. The political movement has attached itself to the faith community like a highly metastatic tumor.

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