Beck Co-Author Has Learned the Dark Barton Arts

Joshua Charles, co-author of a book with Glenn Beck and now a law student at Pat Robertson’s Regent University, appears to have learned at the feet David Barton, the Jedi master of distorting the views of the founding fathers. In a Worldnetdaily column, he uses every dishonest trick in the book.

The phrase “separation of church and state” comes from a letter written by President Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to the Danbury Baptists, and has since become perhaps the most misunderstood phrase in American history. For the founders, separation of church and state was a separation between two institutions. Unfortunately, “separation of church and state” has become, in our own day, the separation of religion from society, a twist the founders did not, and probably could not, anticipate arising from the idea of institutionally separating the church and the government.

And we have lie #1. What Charles is doing here is the same thing done when people like him claim that advocates of church/state separation want to “remove religion from the public square.” His equivalent is “separation of religion from society.” They use these very broad, undefined phrases intentionally, because they want their followers to read it in the broadest possible way. The result is the creation of a straw man version of the separationist position.

Can he actually name someone who advocates church/state separation who believes that the First Amendment demands the “separation of religion from society”? What would it even mean to separate religion from society? Churches are not only part of society, they are one of the most influential institutions, but no one thinks that the First Amendment requires that they be eliminated. Nor does anyone think that people should not be allowed to express their religious beliefs in society. What we do believe is that the government should not endorse or provide financial support for religion. That is not even close to his dishonest characterization of it. But the dishonesty has just begun.

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

Jefferson was speaking very particularly about a person’s religion, his style of worship and his opinions regarding each. Nowhere is there any indication whatsoever that he envisioned religion being separated from public life. This is confirmed by the next few lines of the letter, which are rarely quoted:

“I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.” [emphasis added]

Among the natural rights of mankind of which Jefferson was speaking was the right to freedom of religion. But what is most interesting is what he said about those natural rights: They are compatible with man’s social duties, meaning his actions within society. In other words, Jefferson himself, in the letter made famous for the supposed opposite reason, affirms religion’s role in society, while maintaining that, institutionally, church and state are and ought to remain separate. This comes as no surprise, for the founders constantly reiterated the importance of morality to a free society and what they saw as religion’s role in maintaining that morality, while also asserting that the church and the government ought to remain separate institutions.

Boy, that is really straining to read something into that next sentence that simply isn’t there. Yes, Jefferson supported freedom of religion. So do I. So do nearly all advocates of strict separation. Indeed, we argue — both us and Jefferson — that the only way to maintain religious freedom is by keeping the government out of it entirely. Jefferson argued that even non-coercive, rhetorical support for religion was a violation of the First Amendment.

And notice in that last paragraph, how he suddenly switches from Jefferson to talking about “the founders” (no names given, of course), who “reiterated the importance of morality to a free society and what they saw as religion’s role in maintaining that morality.” And while he’s right that many of the founders did believe that religion was an important support for public morality (Washington, for instance), Jefferson quite emphatically did not believe that. He wrote of this in an 1814 letter to Thomas Law:

Some have made the love of God the foundation of morality. This, too, is but a branch of our moral duties, which are generally divided into duties to God and duties to man. If we did a good act merely from the love of God and a belief that it is pleasing to Him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist? It is idle to say, as some do, that no such being exists. We have the same evidence of the fact as of most of those we act on, to-wit: their own affirmations, and their reasonings in support of them. have observed, indeed, generally, that while in protestant countries the defections from the Platonic Christianity of the priests is to Deism, in catholic countries they are to Atheism. Diderot, D’Alembert, D’Holbach, Condorcet, are known to have been among the most virtuous of men. Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God.

His sudden change of subject, from Jefferson to unnamed founders, was quite intentional, I suspect.

The founders were influenced and inspired by many aspects of their Puritan past, and, as we have seen, the Puritans were extraordinarily religious people. John Adams pointed out to Jefferson how the separation of church and state, or at least the beginnings of it, was a fundamental principle of these highly religious people: “… And independence of Church and Parliament was always kept in view in this part of the country, and, I believe, in most others.”

So it was in fact the very religious settlers of what would become the United States who inspired the idea of separation between church and state (even while not living up to it perfectly or uniformly in the early colonial governments themselves). In other words, separation of church and state was a religious idea, based on the teachings of Christ in which He differentiated between the church and Caesar and in reaction against the “divine right of kings” that was asserted by tyrannical monarchs throughout Europe.

Isn’t it funny how no one society in the entire history of Christianity had ever discovered a command for religious liberty until the Enlightenment? And that includes those Puritans he astonishingly credits with the very idea they so flagrantly violated when setting up their own governments. The Mayflower Compact that established the first Puritan colony not only did not include anything resembling a separation of church and state, it was a brutal theocracy — not just a Christian theocracy, but an explicitly Puritan one (indeed, even one of the two specific types of Puritanism, the separatists).

They didn’t just impose Christianity on everyone through the government, they imposed their particular brand of Christianity against other types of Christians, including Baptists, Quakers and Catholics. To be caught teaching the wrong Christian theology was to be subjected to fines, imprisonment, exile and sometimes even death. Anyone who would dare to point to the Puritans to claim that separation of church and state is a religious idea is either abysmally ignorant of history or a rather audacious liar.

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  • mithrandir

    Excessively nerdy point of order: Barton is acting as a Sith Lord here, not a Jedi Master. “Always there are two: a master and an apprentice.”

  • John Pieret

    The founders were influenced and inspired by many aspects of their Puritan past,

    Whose Puritan past? Certainly not the Virginians and the other southern colonies/states. Nor Pennsylvania (Quaker William Penn) or New York (the Dutch and English merchants). Certainly not Rhode Island founded by Roger Williams, who the Puritans drove out of Massachusetts under pain of death. Indeed, the only state/colony with a Puritan past was Massachusetts.

  • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    TJ:

    I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

    JC:

    what is most interesting is what [this quote from TJ says] about those natural rights: They are compatible with man’s social duties, meaning his actions within society.

    Um, I think that

    …he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties…

    would pretty much mean that wherever one has social duties, one cannot invoke natural right to escape that duty.

    Which would mean that whenever your religion interferes with my freedoms, your religion fucks off. JC is saying that religion is compatible with social duty (and it is, in a general way) but he’s attempting to make the case for theocracy…the case that when my religion interferes with your freedoms, that your freedoms fuck off.

    He’s citing TJ in support of a position that is the exact opposite of what TJ was expressing.

  • Chiroptera

    …it was a brutal theocracy….

    Well, as surprising as it seems to those of us who know the meanings of words, this is exactly what the Religious Right means when it advocates “freedom of religion.” “Freedom” in the sense of “freedom is slavery,” I guess.

  • Michael Heath

    Joshua Charles states:

    The phrase “separation of church and state” comes from a letter written by President Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to the Danbury Baptists, and has since become perhaps the most misunderstood phrase in American history. For the founders, separation of church and state was a separation between two institutions. Unfortunately, “separation of church and state” has become, in our own day, the separation of religion from society,

    Ed responds:

    And we have lie #1. [Referring to the lie about separating the church from society.]

    I count three lies. It’s a big whopper to insinuate that Jefferson’s phrase was the origin of the concept. I’m also supremely confident that people who are aware of Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists have a far better understanding of Jefferson’s meaning than many other phrases in circulation.

    The person misconstruing what Mr. Jefferson wrote here is Mr. Charles, and not the public at large with the exception of other conservative Christians.

  • thebookofdave

    So it was in fact the very religious settlers of what would become the United States who inspired the idea of separation between church and state (even while not living up to it perfectly or uniformly in the early colonial governments themselves).

    I agree with this part, and go further to claim that the drive to “live up to it perfectly” and the relentless pressure to enforce uniformity provided the primary inspiration for separating church from state. Thanks for mentioning it, Mr. Charles.

  • lorn

    The first wave of invaders/settlers were religious fanatics kicked out of England for being to extreme and trying to impose their fundamentalist religion upon others. The second, were criminals kicked out of England, nice safe and sane criminals. It has been a fight between the two sides for the soul of the society ever since.

    Unfortunately Joshua Charles combines the worse of both groups. Brainless religious fanaticism, and a willingness to shamelessly lie to get what they want.

    To counter them we will need people with the determination of religious fanatics and the cunning of criminals.

  • https://www.facebook.com/joshuatcharles Josh Charles

    Thank you for the comments. Unfortunately, you must have missed the very beginning of the article which stated that this is but a section of a very large chapter (about 100 pages). Many of your concerns are addressed in those pages. I’m actually not a fan of Barton at all, and think he has done a big disservice to real history (though some of what he says is correct). And I do not credit the Puritans with the separation of church and state: John Adams does (even while acknowledging, as I did, that they did not do so uniformly, or perfectly). There was not enough space to go into detail on that. You are correct about the Puritans…but only partially. They asserted the principle, even while not living up to it themselves, although the way they framed it was more separation of church and parliament, rather than state. That is the tension one deals with in history.

    So if you are going to deliver criticisms, which I by no means object to, I would appreciate it if the context was taken into account. This chapter is from an upcoming book, and it is the longest chapter in the whole book with over 200 endnotes, all to original sources, just for that single chapter. There is only so much you can cover in a 1,000 word column, which is why it had the disclaimer at the beginning. For example, I quote John Adams directly denying the divinity of Christ, and Jefferson comparing the virgin birth with a Greek myth. I have no problem aknowledging these things, because I am very much opposed to the idea that all the Founders were somehow evangelical Christians (when none of the more famous one were, though some were orthodox Christians), although they were, as I show, very much influenced by, and in many ways respected a general, overarching Judeo-Christian worldview (VERY generally).

    Again, thank you for the comments. Your concerns are valid, and fortunately addressed in more detail throughout the book, and the chapter from which this clip comes in particular. I only ask that you give me a fair hearing as I have given you. I’m always willing to be corrected if I missed something. I have read literally thousands of documents from the Founders, and each of your objections definitely has a reponse to it. In some ways I agree (and say so in the book) and in other ways I completely disagree based on my research over the last 5 years of their writings.

    Regardless, thank you for the viewpoint. I would welcome further dialogue in the future.

    Josh

  • colnago80

    Re Josh Charles @ #8

    Thomas Jefferson did a lot more then deny the divinity of Yeshua ben Jusef of Nazareth. He also denied the virgin birth, the miracle stories in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, the Trinity (which Adams as a Unitarian also denied) and the Resurrection. Brayton has described him as a non-Christian theist, which I think is accurate, since he believed in an intervening diety. He, like Isaac Newton, has also been labeled an Arian by some scholars. His view of Yeshua was far closer to the Islamic position then to the Christian position.

    As a personnel aside, I suspect you could do much better then a 4th rate “law school” like Regent and you do not add to your credibility by writing articles for phoney web sites like the Whacknutdaily.

  • colnago80

    Re #9

    That should be Yeshua ben Yusef.

  • https://www.facebook.com/joshuatcharles Josh Charles

    That is largely correct.

    Regent is an excellent school, and I a, getting a great education. There faculty is top 10 in the nation, among other notable accomplishments, including the 6th best moot court program in the country, and numerous legal competition wins at the national and international level.

    I write for WND despite disagreeing with much of what is on there. I have been criticized many times by their regular readers for my views. I would not be so quick to judge based on that basis alone. I would speak on just about any forum, particularly a forum where I think my views might expose others to something to think about.

  • colnago80

    Re Josh Charles @ #11

    Regent is an excellent school, and I a, getting a great education. There faculty is top 10 in the nation, among other notable accomplishments, including the 6th best moot court program in the country, and numerous legal competition wins at the national and international level

    Yes, it turns out such sterling alumni as Monica Goodling.

  • colnago80

    Re Josh Charles @ #11

    According to US News and World Report, Regent is considered a 4th tier law school.

  • https://www.facebook.com/joshuatcharles Josh Charles

    Sir, I don’t have to prove anything to you. I am getting a great education. You can find less than worthy people from ANY school. Good evening.