David Barton, head of a fundamentalist Christian outfit based in Texas, garnered front-page coverage today from The New York Times because he “has the ear of several would-be presidents.”
Those would-be presidents are all folks in the Republican camp, who are contemplating whether to seek the party’s nomination for president. Barton tells The Times that he has met with “several of the potential candidates,” including Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and Rep. Michele Bachman, who founded the House’s Tea Party caucus.
Barton has drawn their attention largely because of his success, as the newspaper notes, at building “a reputation as a guiding spirit of the religious right.”
He’s become a darling of the religious right, as Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) has pointed out in extensive research on Barton and his group WallBuilders, by putting out reams of material proclaiming that America was founded as a Christian nation, and that its founders never intended for a separation between government and religion.
For years Barton has styled himself as a historian, working to set the record straight on America’s religious underpinnings. One of his favorite targets is the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which provides for a certain amount of separation between government and religion. Barton says the federal courts have gotten that clause all wrong, causing Christianity to be banished from the public square.
Barton’s WallBuilders’ website states that its goal “is to exert a direct and positive influence in government, education, and the family by (1) educating the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country; (2) providing information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies which reflect Biblical values; and (3) encouraging Christians to be involved in the civic arena.”
Barton’s bio claims that his “exhaustive research has rendered him an expert in historical and constitutional issues ….”
And Barton has enjoyed some success portraying himself as a historian. The Times quotes Huckabee as saying that Barton is “maybe the greatest living historian on the spiritual nature of America’s early years.”
But as Boston writes for this 2009 article in Church & State, Barton is not a historian, though he poses as one.
His official bio on the WallBuilders Web site says nothing about Barton’s educational background, probably for good reason: It’s not relevant to what he’s doing. Barton earned a bachelor’s degree in ‘Christian Education’ from Oral Roberts University in 1976 and later taught math and science at a fundamentalist Christian school founded by his father, pastor of Aledo Christian Center.
Despite his thin academic credentials, Barton has managed to become a celebrity in the world of the Religious Right based on his research allegedly ‘proving’ America’s Christian character. He has appeared on programs alongside TV preacher Pat Robertson and fundamentalist radio honcho James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, Barton gives hundreds of lectures every year, rallying fundamentalist shock troops to oppose secular government and church-state separation.
Joseph L. Conn at AU’s blog, says Barton’s goal “is to turn America into a fundamentalist Christian theocracy where folks with his faith perspective rule the roost and everyone else is, at best, a second-class citizen. And he’s using a skewed sectarian version of history to move us toward that goal.”