Christian Pseudo-Historian David Barton Lied About a Supreme Court Case… So I Spoke to the Case’s Namesake

Christian pseudo-historian David Barton has a habit of making things up. Hell, his last book was pulled off the shelves by his publishers because of the factual inaccuracies in it — and now Glenn Beck is publishing it.

So has Barton learned his lesson?

Of course not.

Trust me. I’m Christian.

A couple of weeks ago, he gave a presentation at Glen Meadows Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas where he said something unbelievable about the court case that removed mandatory Bible readings from public schools: Abington Township v. Schempp.

This is the reason, in Barton’s mind, why those readings came to a halt:

… They quoted Dr. Solomon Grayzel on the reason that we need to get the Bible out of schools… In the Supreme Court decision, this is what the Court said why the Bible has to come out of schools; the Court says this:

If portions of the New Testament were read without explanation, they could be, and had been, psychologically harmful to the child.

Time out. Let me see if I get this: if we keep reading the Bible in schools, our kids are going to suffer from brain damage? Yeah, that was the reason given by the Court for the removal of the Bible out of the classroom back in 62-63.

As Kyle Mantyla at Right Wing Watch points out, this is an unfair characaterization for two reasons:

1) The statement from Grayzel wasn’t the reason mandatory Bible readings were removed from public schools. It was simply part of the testimony that was used in an earlier trial, well before the Supreme Court ever made their decision. They included it in their final ruling only to document the history of the case, not as evidence for their final decision.

2) The statement — like much of what Barton says — was taken completely out of context. Grayzel was saying that forced reading of the New Testament could be problematic for Jewish students.

This is from the Supreme Court’s ruling, quoting the earlier trial court:

… Dr. Grayzel testified that portions of the New Testament were offensive to Jewish tradition, and that, from the standpoint of Jewish faith, the concept of Jesus Christ as the Son of God was “practically blasphemous.” He cited instances in the New Testament which, assertedly, were not only sectarian in nature but tended to bring the Jews into ridicule or scorn. Dr. Grayzel gave as his expert opinion that such material from the New Testament could be explained to Jewish children in such a way as to do no harm to them. But if portions of the New Testament were read without explanation, they could be, and, in his specific experience with children, Dr. Grayzel observed, had been, psychologically harmful to the child, and had caused a divisive force within the social media of the school.

If, during grade school, I was forced to listen to another religion’s holy book explaining why I was an awful person destined for hellfire, you can bet it would have a serious effect on me, too. Grayzel wasn’t out of line at all.

As soon as I heard what Barton was saying, the one person I wanted to talk to more than anyone else was the namesake of the case: Ellery Schempp. Ellery was the young activist whose actions led to the eventual victory in the Supreme Court. Ellery has had this case on his mind nearly his entire life. If there’s anyone who knows the ins and outs of the case, it’s him.

Ellery Schempp

So I asked Ellery what he thought about Barton’s statements and his initial response was short and sweet:

Barton is a truly despicable man.

Then, he elaborated… (I’ve edited some of his statements for clarity and added my own emphases):

Kyle Mantyla [of Right Wing Watch] has stated the late Dr. Solomon Grayzel’s view entirely accurately…

I have the text of the court transcript. [Grayzel] testified as to the historical context of the story of the Good Samaritan:

“… the Samaritans and the Jews were not on good terms… the Samaritan was deliberately put in as a slap at the Jews of that day who refused to join the Christian Church… There was no such division as priest, Levite, Samaritan. Now you tell this story in a school to a Jewish child… and a Christian child, and the Christian child has every right to say, ‘See, you come of a people that is cruel, that doesn’t understand the decencies of life.’… and I submit to you, sir, that that destroys all the moral value of the story. I don’t think that that kind of story ought to be read in a public school… because it makes for division rather than for union.”

Three pages earlier in the transcript, Dr. Grayzel is asked to comment on Matthew 27, the conviction and crucifixion…:

“And I submit to you that this verse… has been the cause of more anti-Jewish riots throughout the ages than anything else in history. And if you subject a Jewish child to listening to this sort of reading, which is not unlikely… before Easter, I think he is being subjected to little short of torture.

Later in the transcript, Dean Emeritus Luther Weigle of the Yale Divinity School testified that the “Holy Bible” was non-sectarian “at least as regards to Christians,” but later waffled a bit as to whether the Catholic Douay version was on an equal footing with the King James Protestant version. At this point, admitting the Bible was only non-sectarian among Christians, the defense lost its case.

Barton was familiar enough with the text that he must have read it — and then deliberately, consciously lied about it. Barton has built a lucrative career on making up false quotes from the Founding Fathers, trying desperately to “prove” that separation of church and state is a “myth” and that the USA is somehow a “Christian nation,” whatever that exactly means…

I like to point out that priests and preachers are not elected by the people; they take no oath to the Constitution, and rarely reveal any of their finances.

Barton rakes in millions, has the moral compass of a cockroach, and wants us to believe he has God’s direct email address.

I never thought the Genesis story made any sense, and I didn’t use to believe in talking snakes — but then Glenn Beck and David Barton came along.

I’ve met Ellery before. He’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. To hear such strong words coming from him carry extra weight with me. Barton loves to talk about how he goes back to the original documents when explaining history. In this case, he very likely saw those documents and deliberately lied about them.

Not only can we say that objectively, the person who was the subject of that landmark Supreme Court case agrees: Barton cannot be trusted to tell the truth, even when the truth is staring him right in the face.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X