David Barton Falsifies American History
Church & State Magazine, July-August, 1996

Consumer Alert
WallBuilders' Shoddy Workmanship
by Rob Boston
author of
The Most Dangerous Man in America?
Pat Robertson and the Rise of the Christian Coalition

"We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God."

So said James Madison, architect of the Constitution, defender of religious freedom and fourth president of the United States, according to the Religious Right.

But to church-state separationists and historians of the post-colonial period, something about this Madison quote has never felt quite right. It seemed unlikely that the same Madison who advocated "total separation of the church from the state" and battled to disestablish the Anglican Church in Virginia would say it. The sentiment appeared to clash with his well-known advocacy of a healthy distance between religion and government.

A few years ago, with the quote popping up increasingly in the mass media (including Rush Limbaugh's daily radio show), Robert S. Alley, professor emeritus at the University of Richmond and author of James Madison on Religious Liberty, undertook a dogged effort to track it down. Enlisting the help of the editors of The Papers of James Madison at the University of Virginia, Alley scoured reams of documents, books and writings. After coming up empty-handed, the Madison scholar concluded that the quote was probably fictional.

Now the major purveyor of the quote, Texas-based Religious Right propagandist David Barton, has admitted it's bogus. Last year Barton's group, WallBuilders' issued a one-page document titled "Questionable Quotes," a list of 12 statements allegedly uttered by Founding Fathers and other prominent historical figures, that are now considered to be suspect or outright false. Madison's alleged comment about the Ten Commandments is number four on the list and is flatly declared by Barton to be "false." (See [below] for a full list of the bogus quotes.)

Advocates of separation of church and state were left breathless over Barton's audacity. For nearly 10 years, the Texas propagandist has traveled the country, putting on programs about America's alleged "Christian heritage" at fundamentalist churches and other venues. During these events, Barton argued that the separation of church and state is a myth foisted on the country by the Supreme Court 50 years ago. The United States, he insisted, was founded by Christians and was intended to be a fundamentalist-style "Christian nation."

What was Barton's proof for these claims? Many of the quotations he now admits are groundless! At least nine of the 12 were included in Barton's 1989 book, The Myth of Separation, and appeared in the video version, "America's Godly Heritage." Barton was so enamored of one quote supposedly uttered by Benjamin Franklin ("Whosoever shall introduce into the public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world.") that it was included on a biographical sketch WallBuilders distributes about Barton, saying it "fully sums up what David believes and teachers." Barton now admits the quote is "questionable" and recommends people don't use it.

Alley finds Barton's reliance on phony history disturbing. "It's one thing to get up and make a speech and allude to something that isn't there, but when you have somebody parading a document in a book and that turns out to be an outright lie, it's more dangerous," Alley told Church & State magazine. "The danger is that people will find credibility in what he does largely because he represents himself in that mode. He's a double fraud."

Continued Alley, "For Barton to withdraw these quotes is fine, but that doesn't change the fact that they were wrong to begin with."

Barton's "Questionable Quotes" sheet tries to minimize the importance of the use of phony material. "Inevitably, the quotes will continue to be heard at the 'popular' level," reads the introduction. "Fret not; the sun will still rise. But at the scholarly level, please refrain from, or at least be cautious in, using any quotation that cannot be authenticated. Thank you for purifying your own waters in the world's rhetorical rivers."

In fact, much damage to Americans' understanding of their own history has already been wrought by these fake quotes. As Barton himself notes in promotional materials, "Many people have used quotes from our videos in writing 'Letters to the Editor' or sharing information with friends or public of officials." They have appeared incessantly in both right-wing and mainstream media and have been paraded about by conservative columnists and talk radio programs across the nation. On October 7, 1992, former U.S. Rep. William Dannemeyer of California, a staunch ally of the Religious Right, read the phony Madison quote into the Congressional Record. Millions of people may have been misled by this false information, only a tiny fraction of whom will ever see Barton's "correction."

Barton's sloppy research and predilection to rely on questionable sources never stopped Religious Right activists from recommending his materials. Television preacher and Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson has lauded Barton as a "wonderful man." "I admire him tremendously for his breadth of information," Robertson gushed.

Barton has addressed Christian Coalition national gatherings for three years running and is active in the group's Texas chapter. El Cajon, Calif., City Council member Bob McClellan, a Barton groupie, often accompanies the Texas propagandist to meetings and hawks his books and tapes. McClellan, a Coalition activist, posts a banner saying the materials "have been invaluable in furthering the principals [sic] behind the Christian Coalition in San Diego."

The Rev. Jerry Falwell sells Barton's materials at the Liberty University bookstore, and the Texas activist has been interviewed at least twice by James Dobson on Focus on the Family's daily radio broadcast.

Even Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has praised Barton. In a speech about school prayer delivered at the Heritage Foundation on Oct. 5, 1994, before he was named speaker, Gingrich -- who considers himself a historian -- called Barton's Myth of Separation book "most useful" and "wonderful."

Incredibly, Barton appears to have emerged undamaged even after admitting that many of his quotes are bogus, and he continues spreading incorrect information through the Religious Right's media empire. During his most recent interview with Dobson May 2, Barton conceded that Thomas Jefferson's famous 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut calls for a "wall of separation between church and state." But Barton went on to claim that later in the letter Jefferson says separation "means the government will not run the church, but we will still use Christian principles with government." In fact, Jefferson's letter says no such thing. (For more information about this and other Barton errors, see "Sects, Lies and Videotape," and "David Barton's Bad History," April 1993 Church & State magazine.)

Barton is apparently at least somewhat embarrassed by his inaccuracies, or at least wants to cover them up. Thus, The Myth of Separation has been "updated" and re-titled Original Intent. The new, longer volume omits the phony quotes and some of the more egregious errors in The Myth of Separation but remains rife with distortions of history and court rulings. Throughout, the book pitches the line that the United States was founded to be a "Christian nation" and charges that the modern Supreme Court and church-state separationists have covered up this legacy.

In his WallBuilder Report newsletter, Barton brags that the new volume contains "over thirteen hundred footnotes." He does not point out that The Myth of Separation also contained extensive footnotes but was still inaccurate because the sources Barton relied on were wrong.

Meanwhile, a federal court ruled recently that Barton's materials are inappropriate for use in public schools. The case was brought by Lisa Herdahl, an Ecru, Miss., mother whose objection to official prayers at the local public school has captured national headlines. A less-noticed part of her lawsuit challenges a class at the school known as "A Biblical History of the Middle East."

Herdahl asserted that the course was a ruse for teaching fundamentalist Christianity, and U.S. District Judge Neal B. Biggers Jr. agreed. In his June 3 decision, Biggers noted that course instructors used Barton's video "America's Godly Heritage," as well as other fundamentalist tapes, in class.

"[T]he only implication the court can draw from the showing of this and other religious films to a class of students supposedly studying Middle East history is that the teachers are attempting to indoctrinate the students in their religious beliefs by claiming to teach Middle East history," Biggers wrote. "This practice cannot be condoned in the context of a public school system. It is best left to the family and the church."

Barton's recent misfortunes are not likely to slow down the "Christian nation" movement. He continues to speak around the country, and scores of other Religious Right propagandists are also active, including Christian Reconstructionist Gary DeMar, TV preacher D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries, and the Rev. Peter Marshall who, like Barton, is a Christian Coalition favorite. These and some lesser known Religious Right activists crank out books, videos and other materials attacking separation of church and state and advocating union between religion and government.

Commenting on the Madison "Ten Commandments" fiasco in a 1995 article for the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Alley, who serves on Americans United's Board of Trustees, noted, "Proving that a quotation does not exist is a daunting task. If you cannot find it in any extant manuscripts or collections of Madison's works, just how does one prove it will not turn up in someone's attic tomorrow? Of course you cannot.... But, after all, it is incumbent solely upon the perpetrators of this myth to prove it by at least one citation. This they cannot do. Their style is not revisionism, it is anti-historical."

Concluded Alley, "We likely have not heard the last of this nonsense, but it is important to press the new media frauds to document what they claim. Because they cannot do so in most instances, time may ultimately discredit the lot of them."

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Mything In Action:

David Barton's
'Questionable Quotes'

"Christian nation" propagandist David Barton has issued a statement conceding that the following twelve quotations attributed to prominent historical figures are either false or at best questionable. WallBuilders' observations about the quotes are in parenthesis.

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Bogus Quotes
by Richard S. Russell

"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ!"
-- Patrick Henry

"It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible."
-- George Washington

"Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise. In this sense and to this extent, our civilizations and our institutions are emphatically Christian."
-- Holy Trinity v. U. S. (Supreme Court case)

"We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves ... according to the Ten Commandments of God."
-- James Madison

"Whosoever shall introduce into the public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world."
-- Benjamin Franklin

"The principles of all genuine liberty, and of wise laws and administrations are to be drown from the Bible and sustained by its authority. The man therefore who weakens or destroys the divine authority of that book may be assessory to all the public disorders which society is doomed to suffer."
-- Noah Webster

"There are two powers only which are sufficient to control men, and secure the rights of individuals and a peaceable administration; these are the combined force of religion and law, and the force or fear of the bayonet."
-- Noah Webster

"The only assurance of our nation's safety is to lay our foundation in morality and religion."
-- Abraham Lincoln

"The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next."

-- Abraham Lincoln

"A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or eternal invader."
-- Samuel Adams
[this can be found in Harry Alonzo Cushing, ed., The Writings of Samuel Adams (1908), Vol. 4, p. 124 -- Cliff Walker, May 1, 2002]

"I have always said and always will say that the studious perusal of the Sacred Volume will make us better citizens."
-- Thomas Jefferson

"America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great."
-- Alexis de Tocqueville

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America: Not a Christian Nation!
by Dean Worbois
from the PostFun Home Page

No one disputes the faith of our Founding Fathers. To speak of unalienable Rights being endowed by a Creator certainly shows a sensitivity to our spiritual selves. What is surprising is when fundamentalist Christians think the Founding Fathers' faith had anything to do with the Bible. Without exception, the faith of our Founding Fathers was deist, not theist. It was best expressed earlier in the Declaration of Independence, when they spoke of "the Laws of Nature" and of "Nature's God."

In a sermon of October 1831, Episcopalian minister Bird Wilson said, "Among all of our Presidents, from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism."

The Bible? Here is what our Founding Fathers wrote about Bible-based Christianity:

Thomas Jefferson: "I have examined all the known superstitions of the word, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth."
-- Six Historic Americans by John E. Remsburg, letter to William Short

Jefferson again: "Christianity...(has become) the most perverted system that ever shone on man. ...Rogueries, absurdities and untruths were perpetrated upon the teachings of Jesus by a large band of dupes and importers led by Paul, the first great corrupter of the teaching of Jesus."

More Jefferson: "The clergy converted the simple teachings of Jesus into an engine for enslaving mankind and adulterated by artificial constructions into a contrivance to filch wealth and power to themselves...these clergy, in fact, constitute the real Anti-Christ.

Jefferson's word for the Bible? "Dunghill."
[Editor's note: Jefferson used this word to describe what he considered false teachings placed into the mouth of Christ, as opposed to what he considered the true teachings of Christ. He never used this word to describe the entire Bible.]

John Adams: "Where do we find a precept in the Bible for Creeds, Confessions, Doctrines and Oaths, and whole carloads of other trumpery that we find religion encumbered with in these days?"

Also Adams: "The doctrine of the divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity." Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli. Article 11 states: "The Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."

Here's Thomas Paine: "I would not dare to so dishonor my Creator God by attaching His name to that book (the Bible)." "Among the most detestable villains in history, you could not find one worse than Moses. Here is an order, attributed to 'God' to butcher the boys, to massacre the mothers and to debauch and rape the daughters. I would not dare so dishonor my Creator's name by (attaching) it to this filthy book (the Bible)." "It is the duty of every true Deist to vindicate the moral justice of God against the evils of the Bible." "Accustom a people to believe that priests and clergy can forgive sins...and you will have sins in abundance." And; "The Christian church has set up a religion of pomp and revenue in pretended imitation of a person (Jesus) who lived a life of poverty."

Finally let's hear from James Madison: "What influence in fact have Christian ecclesiastical establishments had on civil society? In many instances they have been upholding the thrones of political tyranny. In no instance have they been seen as the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty have found in the clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate liberty, does not need the clergy." Madison objected to state-supported chaplains in Congress and to the exemption of churches from taxation. He wrote: "Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together."

These founding fathers were a reflection of the American population. Having escaped from the state-established religions of Europe, only 7% of the people in the 13 colonies belonged to a church when the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Among those who confuse Christianity with the founding of America, the rise of conservative Baptists is one of the more interesting developments. The Baptists believed God's authority came from the people, not the priesthood, and they had been persecuted for this belief. It was they -- the Baptists -- who were instrumental in securing the separation of church and state. They knew you can not have a "one-way wall" that lets religion into government but that does not let it out. They knew no religion is capable of handling political power without becoming corrupted by it. And, perhaps, they knew it was Christ himself who first proposed the separation of church and state: "Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto the Lord that which is the Lord's."

In the last five years the Baptists have been taken over by a fundamentalist faction that insists authority comes from the Bible and that the individual must accept the interpretation of the Bible from a higher authority. These usurpers of the Baptist faith are those who insist they should meddle in the affairs of the government and it is they who insist the government should meddle in the beliefs of individuals.

The price of Liberty is constant vigilance, folks. Religious fundamentalism and zealous patriotism have always been the forces which require the greatest attention.

© 1994 Worbois

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Editor's Note: We have received several requests asking for references to the quotes in this article. We are now able to include some of the references and links to other sites that relate the beliefs of the founding fathers. While most of these politicians were diplomatic in their public expressions on religion, in their private conversations, writings, and correspondences they showed their true colors.

The writings of Thomas Jefferson exist in 25 volumes. The references for this article were found in the book, Six Historic Americans by John E. Remsburg (who interviewed many of Lincoln's associates). Much of his work on Jefferson came from The Memoirs, Correspondence and Miscellanies from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 4 volumes ed. by Thomas Jefferson Randolph (the grandson of Thomas Jefferson).

© PostFun 1995 All Rights Reserved

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Treaty of Tripoli
November 4, 1776-1996
by Ed Buckner

"As the government of the United States is not in any sense
founded on the Christian religion..."
-- George Washington

A date of major importance is coming up in early November! (No, not the Presidential election, silly -- something really important.) On November 4, 1996, freethinkers everywhere can celebrate the first of two very important bicentennials, both related to the famous (or, to the opponents of religious liberty, infamous) Treaty of Tripoli. The treaty was signed on November 4, 1796, two hundred years ago, near the end of Washington's second term. Since it was unanimously ratified by the U. S. Senate the next spring and signed and proclaimed by President John Adams on June 10, 1797, the second major bicentennial opportunity will come on June 10, 1997.

Freethinkers and secular humanists and atheists and church-state separationists--in short, all lovers of religious liberty nation-wide--should push for celebrating either or both of these bicentennials, with press releases, letters to the editor, requests for officials to make proclamations, etc. In some senses the treaty in question was a relatively obscure treaty and it has been the subject of all kinds of distortions and attacks, unfortunately including some by freethinkers or their allies. We do not ask any group or individual to assist with this lightly--indeed, we urge everyone to be aware of all the facts and of the objections (shown below in quotation marks) raised by Christian-nation mythologists. Since most of those objections have some grain of truth to them but are nevertheless misleadingly used, they need to be considered one at a time:

The author, who wanted very much to be remembered primarily as an epic poet rather than as an "obscure" one, was Joel Barlow, the U.S. diplomatic representative assigned the task of reaching peace with the pirates of the Barbary coast. He wrote the words as a part of Article 11 of a Treaty with Tripoli agreed to on November 4, 1796. Barlow was a good friend of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and James Monroe. When the French radicals arrested Thomas Paine it was Barlow that Paine hurriedly entrusted with the manuscript of the first part of The Age of Reason. Barlow may have been an atheist himself or, more likely, a deist--and that may have somehow had something to do with the great controversy and mystery surrounding the existence of the famous Article 11 (see last objection, below).

According to Paul Boller, in George Washington and Religion (1963), "Very likely Washington shared Barlow's view, though there is no record of his opinion about the treaty." Unfortunately someone, perhaps an overzealous freethinker, circulated the words as a Washington quote, no doubt because the words were composed during the end of Washington's second administration. Some of the true circumstances surrounding the treaty text (see below) make the quote a more effective weapon against Christian-nation mythologists than if it had been a mere Washington quote.

These points are all accurate, but all of them miss the mark nevertheless. Later treaties with Russia or Great Britain, which were then Christian nations, had the ceremonial allusions to the Trinity that such nations would want, but these had no treaty declarations of any kind of Christian status for the U.S. The significance of the words in Article 11 of the 1796-97 treaty is not that those words created a non-Christian nation or gave us a godless government -- it was the U.S. Constitution and First Amendment that did that. The significance lies in the fact that these words were used, apparently to reassure a Muslim power, and broadly accepted in the U.S., less than a decade after the Constitution was adopted and only five or six years after the First Amendment was approved. It is the strong reinforcement of the plain original intentions of the framers and founders that is significant.

These points are also technically accurate, but very misleading. All Senators present (the Senate had far fewer members in those days) voted, in a rare recorded vote, in favor of the treaty. One of Georgia's Senators was absent because of his alleged involvement in the Yazoo land fraud scandal; Georgia's other Senator, Josiah Tattnall, chose not to run for re-election, but was thereafter elected as Governor of Georgia. Though a young man--one of Georgia's youngest governors--he died shortly after that. Tattnall County was named after him, as were various streets and squares in Georgia.

The points, while literally true, very much support the argument of separationists. The recorded vote was only the third unanimous recorded vote (out of thousands of votes and 339 recorded votes) in the history of the U.S. Senate to that point. (The fourth such unanimous recorded vote, the next year, was one honoring George Washington.) The Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the United States Senate clearly specifies that the treaty was read aloud on the floor of the Senate and that copies of the treaty were printed "for the use of the Senate." Nor is it plausible to argue that perhaps Senators voted for the treaty without being aware of the famous words. The treaty was quite short, requiring only one or two pages to reprint in most treaty books today--and printed, in its entirety, on but one page (sometimes the front page) of U.S. newspapers of the day. The lack of any recorded argument about the wording, as well as the unanimous vote and the wide reprinting of the words in the press of 1797, suggests that the idea that the government was not a Christian one was widely and easily accepted at the time.

This is the most serious objection and the one the Christian-nation mythologists cling to the most desperately, but even if true, it is ultimately irrelevant. The surviving copy of the Arabic treaty does have a strange, non-treaty-like letter -- a page of gibberish -- where Article 11 should be. It is true that no one knows why. The mythologists never speculate that a possible explanation is that some Christian, offended by the Article, destroyed it and replaced it with the crude Arabic "letter" now found there. That could have happened in 1796 or 1797 or much later on (the strange Arabic "substitution" was discovered in 1930); it matters but little anyway. There is no dispute whatsoever about the fact that the words, "As the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion, ..." were in the English version unanimously ratified by the Senate and they were in the English version signed and proclaimed by President John Adams on June 10, 1797 (his proclamation ended with the sentence, "And I do hereby enjoin and require all persons bearing office civil or military within the United States, and all other citizens or inhabitants thereof, faithfully to observe and fulfill the said Treaty and every clause and article thereof"). And those famous Article 11 words were reprinted throughout the U.S. in the newspapers of the day.

We have checked these details carefully and assure everyone that they are accurate and defensible. The Atlanta Freethought Society is not suggesting that this treaty (or the Constitution that preceded it) makes the U.S. government anti-Christian nor that it should be. For the sake of everyone's liberty, the government is--and must remain--neutral regarding religion. We ask anyone who reads this and will help AFS get publicity for either bicentennial to please do so (AFS will be happy if some credit is extended to us, but none is required at all.) If you want more information about our efforts or just want to let us know about yours, please write or call us (AFS, P O Box 813392, Smyrna GA 30081; 770-641-2903). Please do not release my e-mail address, below, to the media--but do feel free to release the snail-mail address, my name or that of AFS, or the AFS phone number.

Thanks, Ed Buckner <ebuckner@atlanta.tec.ga. us>
Atlanta Freethought Society
P. O. Box 813392, Smyrna GA 30081-3392

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