Gregg Frazer Eviscerates David Barton

Gregg Frazer is a Christian historian that I have a lot of respect for. Unlike so many, he is intellectually honest in his work on the Founding Fathers and religion. And while I have my disagreements with him on the scope and nature of the religion clauses of the First Amendment, I agree with him in his assessment of the utter dishonesty of David Barton. Warren Throckmorton has, with Frazer’s permission, published a long review of Barton’s America’s Deadly Heritage.

Let us begin with monumental unsupported assumptions presented as fact. The video begins with the claim that 52 of the 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention were “orthodox, evangelical Christians.” Barton does not supply any source or basis for this astounding claim, but I strongly suspect that the source is M.E. Bradford’s A Worthy Company. It is, to my knowledge, the only “study” that attempts such a determination and that produces 52

as a result. The extent of Bradford’s evidence is simply a list of the denominational affiliations of the 55 delegates. Mere affiliation with a denomination is, of course, no evidence whatever of “orthodox, evangelical” Christianity. This is particularly true since, in order to get to 52, one must include the two Roman Catholics. If mere denominational affiliation is proof of orthodox Christianity, one must also wonder why Barton is concerned today, since 86% of today’s Congress is affiliated with Protestant or Catholic denominations (compared with just 75% of the national population). Today’s Congress is apparently more “Christian” than the American public.

A second monumental assumption is the claim that George Washington’s “miraculous” delivery in battle demonstrates God’s special hand on him. The original source for this story is Mason Locke (Parson) Weems’s embarrassing hagiography of Washington. To present one of Weems’s stories as fact reflects very poorly on Barton’s historiography. But even if one were to take this story as fact, one cannot assume without revelation that an event such as this indicates a special relationship with God. Hitler “miraculously” survived an attempt on his life, too – and claimed that God had spared him to finish his “ordained” work…

Several monumental assumptions surround Barton’s arguments concerning prayer in school. First, he argues that because of the Supreme Court decision in 1962 which struck down organized public prayer in public schools, 1963 is the beginning of the decline of America. He says that “since the removal of religious values” from America, a tremendous moral decline has occurred and 1963 is marked on his charts as “religious principles separated.” Was organized public prayer in public schools the only expression or conduit of religious values in America? Can one court decision really separate religious principles and remove religious values from America? Did the Court outlaw churches? Families? Parachurch organizations? In fact, they did not even outlaw prayer, but only organized public prayer that Barton himself admits was a “bland” and “to whom it may concern” prayer.

Second, Barton argues that we can demonstrate statistically the moral decline caused by the removal of organized public prayer from public schools by looking at numbers in selected categories since 1963 – “since the removal of religious values.” This assumes that there are no other explanations for America’s moral decline and for the disturbing numbers. This is the classic “correlation equals causation” fallacy and akin to declaring that leaves turn brown because squirrels gather nuts – they happen at the same time, so one must be causing the other. But there are, of course, a number of other possible explanations for America’s moral decline during this period. Among them are: a) the sexual revolution and invention of “the Pill,” b) lack of respect for authority engendered by the Vietnam conflict, c) the drug culture, d) racial unrest, and e) various media – specifically, sinful messages transmitted via movies, music, and television [which Barton himself blames for the loss of youth morality in his book].

Third, Barton attributes improved SAT scores to the growth of Christian schools and, more to the point, claims that the basic difference is that Christian schools utilize religious principles and public schools do not. First, private school students score higher – not just Christian school students. Second, must this be the effect of “religious” principles, or are there any other alternate explanations? For example, private schools (including Christian) are able to be selective in determining which students they serve. Almost all have entrance tests to fill openings and can “weed out” weak and troublesome students. Public schools must serve whoever shows up at their door. Third, Barton makes much of the fact that Christian schools spend less per student, but the real issue is arguably how money is spent, not how much. Public schools waste large amounts of money on non-educational frills, projects, and bureaucrats – but this has nothing to do with religious values.

In addition to these assumptions, the video also contains a number of glaring overstatements. Barton identifies John Jay as “one of the three men most responsible for the Constitution …. He’s one of the three men that gave us the Constitution.” Jay did not even attend the Constitutional Convention! He was one of the three authors of The Federalist Papers (writing only 5 of the 85 essays), but the Constitution was already written. Jay’s writings indicate that he was a true believer in Christ, so one can see why Barton would want to magnify his significance regarding the Founding – but it is clearly overstated. While talking about what Chief Justice Jay said, Barton reports that the Supreme Court said we should elect Christians to office. The Supreme Court did not say that – one member of the Court did. It was Jay’s opinion, not that of the Court. After pointing out that Dallas high schools studied the Bible in 1946, Barton concludes that this reflects “everything that we had before.” No, it merely illustrates what Dallas had before; it hardly reflects on the nation. He follows with the statement that earlier court decisions said “you couldn’t have a school that didn’t teach Christianity and the Bible,” referring to his claims regarding Vidal v. Girard (1844). But the Court did not say that schools must teach Christianity and the Bible. According to his own slides, it said, “Why may not the Bible, and especially the New Testament be read and taught as divine revelation in the schools? Where can the purest principles of morality be learned so clearly or so perfectly as from the New Testament?”

It goes on like this for 13 pages, ripping apart claim after claim, lie after lie.

POPULAR AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Doc Bill

    Matters not a whit. Barton’s followers don’t read anything. They’ll just hold up the book and wave it around, pulling out a few quotes here and there. Meanwhile, Barton will get introduced as America’s Historian on right-wing radio and TV shows and the meme will amplify in the echo chamber.

    Barton doesn’t draw his wealth from “us,” rather, he gets it from “them” – his base.

    Of course, when the base leaks into the normal world, say the Texas State School Board, as it has done, there’s trouble in River City and Mama ain’t happy.

  • Larry

    Barton lies, water is wet. Nothing new here to see, move along.

  • erichoug

    The really sad thing is that once religious freedom is removed, once the wall of separation between church and state is torn down, the first people to suffer are the religious.

    You see it time and time again where a secular society undergoes a religious revival, the religions that don’t conform to the orthodox belief are hunted down and exterminated.

    The really sad thing is that the founding fathers knew that! And Barton lies to make it seem otherwise.

  • grumpyoldfart

    It goes on like this for 13 pages, ripping apart claim after claim, lie after lie.

    Barton’s audience will get halfway down page one and say, “This is bullshit.” Then they’ll chuck the rest of it in the bin.

  • Michael Hoaglin

    “America’s Deadly Heritage”? I think the title may be an improvement.

  • John Pieret

    ripping apart claim after claim, lie after lie

    Barrel, fish, AK-47.

  • http://dontlinkmebro F [i’m not here, i’m gone]

    Second, Barton argues that we can demonstrate statistically the moral decline caused by the removal of organized public prayer from public schools by looking at numbers in selected categories since 1963 – “since the removal of religious values.” This assumes that there are no other explanations for America’s moral decline and for the disturbing numbers.

    And assuming there is some sort of moral decline…

  • Artor

    And now, ladies and gentlemen: a poll. If we were to lay bets on whichever Xian historian more Xians have read or heard of, who would you back? Frazer on the left, Barton to the right. Come right up and make your wager folks!

  • generalfactotum

    “Third, Barton makes much of the fact that Christian schools spend less per student, but the real issue is arguably how money is spent, not how much. Public schools waste large amounts of money on non-educational frills, projects, and bureaucrats – but this has nothing to do with religious values.”

    While I agree with this in part, this analysis does fail to discuss the additional costs public schools bear for special education. 15 years ago special education costs were $50 billion, over 12% of the national school budget. Private schools are not required to provide these services, and when they do they frequently can be reimbursed by the state. Special education is not a “frill” , but one of the biggest reasons for the higher per pupil costs in the public schools.

  • coffeehound

    @9, generalfactotum,

    This. He actually alluded to it in the discussion when mentioning the fact that public education is obligated to take all comers then failed to tie it together with the next logical conclusion that this would in fact create a population that would require additional resources.