Profiles on the Right: David Barton

David Barton

David Barton

David Barton is an American evangelical author and conservative activist. He is the founder of Wallbuilders, a religious organization  that claims the founding fathers never established a separation of church and state as defined in the constitution. Though he advertises himself as a legitimate historian, Barton has no formal training other than a degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University. His “historic research” has been repeatedly criticized by the New York Times, professor Mike Lilla of Columbia University and the University of Colorado, and religious scholars such as Derek H. Davis, the director of church-state studies at Baylor University.

“Schlock history written by religious propagandists like David Barton … who use selective quotations out of context to suggest that the framers were inspired believers who thought they were founding a Christian nation.”  – Mike Lilla, Columbia University

“[Barton’s work contains] a lot of distortions, half-truths, and twisted history.” – Derek H. Davis, Baylor University

In his book, The Myth of Separation, Barton argues the founding fathers “merge[d] biblical teachings into the framework of the constitution, and the clear understanding they all had that America was founded as God’s chosen nation.” He also claims the founding fathers intended only Christians to hold office.From 1998-2006, Barton served as vice-chairman of the Texas Republican Party. During his tenure, the Texas GOP platform asserted that “America is a Christian nation” and also noted the “myth of separation of church and state”. In 2004, Barton was hired as a political consultant by the Republican National Committee. His position consisted of “traveling the country and speaking at about 300 RNC-sponsored lunches for local evangelical pastors … and encouraged pastors to endorse political candidates from the pulpit”.

Working primarily behind the scenes with other far Right Wing figures, Barton’s work is believed to have had direct influence on public opinion regarding issues of religious freedom. He has become a leading “historian” in the cause of promoting a Christian nationalist agenda. In her article From Schoolhouse to Statehouse: Curriculum from a Christian Nationalist Worldview, PRA research fellow Rachel Tabachnick noted “The State of the First Amendment 2007 national survey found that 65% of Americans believe that the founders intended America to be a Christian nation and 55% believe that the Constitution establishes America as a Christian nation. Barton can get some of the credit for this”.

In 2010, the Texas School Board hired him as an “expert” during their controversial curriculum initiative to promote Christian nationalism in schools, remove any historic claims which referenced a separation of church and state, and ban creationism and evolution from being taught in Texas public school system. Barton also supported efforts to excise Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chaves from textbooks, claiming they did not deserve to be included for advancing majority rights, as “only majorities can expand political rights.”

Barton has also worked closely with Glenn Beck, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and other prominent leaders in the Christian conservative movement. In 2008, he partnered with Gingrich and his organization Renewing American Leadership in promoting and defending religious conservative political activism, based around their mission of defending the “three pillars of American civilization: freedom faith and free markets”. In 2010, Barton was featured in a series of rallies organized by Beck, where he gave “historical” accounts of the founding fathers’ efforts to incorporate biblical values into the Constitution. He then hosted, along with Jim Garlow and David Lane,   “The Next Great Awakening Tour” at various sites across the country. This religious revival tour promulgating right-wing Christian ideologies featured guest speakers such as Lou Engle, Tony Perkins, and Rick Santorum.

Though Barton might be a popular figure inside Christian conservative circles, his “historical research” has been universally discredited by academics and even fellow conservatives. In 2012, his book, The Jefferson Lies, was voted by the History News Network as the “least credible history book in print.”  In an attempt to defend his work against the claims that he was cherry-picking information to suit his arguments and ignoring facts that discredited his work, Barton acknowledged that some of his research lacked primary sources in an article titled “Unconfirmed Sources.” Despite conceding a lack of sources for quotes by founding fathers he had repeatedly used, he argued that the quotes were “completely consistent” with other views and statements by the founding fathers. Barton has also made baseless and bigoted assertions on issues outside of historic revisionism as well. He has repeatedly denounced climate change science, claimed on his radio show in 2010 that “homosexuals die decades earlier than heterosexuals,” and more than half of all homosexuals have sexual relations with more than 500 people in their lifetimes, and has said that Democrats are responsible for racism against African Americans.

James Lavelle contributed to this profile.