Bully pulpit? ‘Christian Nation’ advocate David Barton sues critics
Pseudo-historian David Barton is on the attack again – this time in court.
Barton, a prominent advocate of the discredited view that the United States was founded to be an officially “Christian nation,” is suing three people in Texas whom he says have defamed him.
Barton’s lawsuit asserts that Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau, who ran for the Texas State Board of Education in 2010, defamed Barton by publishing an ad noting that Barton has had ties to white supremacists. He’s also suing an internet journalist named W.S. Smith who asserted that Barton is liar.
This business about Barton’s connections to white supremacism goes back to 1991, when the Institute for First Amendment Studies reported that Barton had addressed a gathering in Colorado run by Scriptures for America, a group headed by an extremist preacher named Pete Peters.
At the Colorado event, Barton’s fellow speakers included anti-Semites, white supremacists and a Holocaust denier. Later that year, Barton spoke at Kingdom Covenant College in Grants Pass, Oregon, an institution affiliated with the racist and anti-Semitic “Christian Identity” movement.
I pointed this out in Church & State in 1993, and it was later reported by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in its lengthy 1994 report on the Religious Right. More recently, Media Matters brought it up last year when Barton was getting cozy with Glenn Beck.
My point is, many others have reported on these connections over the years. So why didn’t Barton sue the ADL or Media Matters?
In my 2000 book Close Encounters with the Religious Right: Journeys Into the Twilight Zone of Religion and Politics, I was careful to point out that there is no evidence that Barton himself is a racist or an anti-Semite. But that he twice addressed groups that hold these views is a fact. I even have a letter from one of Barton’s assistants claiming that Barton didn’t realize the extremist nature of these groups when he agreed to speak to them.
I still believe that he showed poor judgment. It must have been obvious when Barton arrived at these venues that extremists and hate-mongers were running the show. The honorable thing to do would have been to leave.
Is Barton a liar? He certainly spreads misinformation about American history, but whether he does so knowingly is a matter of debate. Barton seems to believe what he’s saying is true – even though it’s not.
On May 2, 1996, Barton appeared on a radio program with James Dobson of Focus on the Family. During the interview, Barton asserted that in his famous 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists that contains the famous “wall of separation between church and state” metaphor, Thomas Jefferson went on to say that “we will still use Christian principles with the government.”
The Danbury letter says no such thing [Editor's note: Read it HERE] and I find it hard to believe that Barton had not read it by then. It could be that he is so wedded to his perspective that he sees things that are not there or draws wildly inappropriate conclusions based on scanty evidence.
In my opinion, Barton’s lawsuit is designed to intimidate his critics. If people have to spend time and money defending themselves in court, they might be reluctant to write about Barton in the future.
It’s the legal equivalent of a schoolyard bully’s shakedown. Barton has become famous (and wealthy) through his promotion of “Christian nation” claptrap. He has also become a public figure, someone who is open to criticism and barbs. He needs to develop a thicker skin.
I urge anyone threatened by Barton to resist him to the hilt in court.
P.S. Friday I will be speaking to Americans United’s Great Plains Chapter in Wichita, Kan., on “The Christian Nation Myth.” I will debunk Barton’s perspective. If you live in the area, come on out for this free event. Go here for more information.
- David Barton Files Defamation Suits Against Three
- David Barton: US should use biblical justice, just as the Constitution says
- David Barton Is Not A Historian
- Historians Agree: David Barton Is No Historian
- Faith, Freedom and Frankfurters: An Independence Day reflection on the “Christian Nation” myth
- Christian Right – United NOT in Christ But in Facsist, Rightist Politics (theageofblasphemy.wordpress.com)
- Bully pulpit? ‘Christian Nation’ advocate David Barton sues critics (secularnewsdaily.com)
- Barton Suggests Thomas Jefferson’s Affair With Sally Hemings Was A Liberal Conspiracy (kaystreet.wordpress.com)