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.

  • Anthony Magnabosco

    Ouch. Barton. It is sad that his name is still held in such high regard in Christian circles. What will it take?

  • Piet Puk

    Liars for jesus, what else is new?

  • MargueriteF

    Barton has done a great deal of damage. No matter how discredited he is, no matter how clearly it can be demonstrated that he lies, the mistaken idea that “this country was founded on Christian principles” seems to have taken hold in conservative circles, and doesn’t appear likely to go away any time soon.

  • Silver

    I think I should defend cockroaches in that penultimate paragraph. It’s not a roaches fault that it happened to descend from a (highly successful!) lineage of creepy looking, multi-legged organism. It;s just doing what its biology tells it to do.

    It literally cannot conceive of a way to do things differently. Admittedly, that sounds similar to Barton (look at that hair! Or is it plastic?), except for the multi-legged bit, but at least theoretically, he can learn that he is a pathological liar and that in the interest of basic human dignity, he can change his ways.

  • observer

    At risk of invoking the no true Scotsman fallicy, if Christians are
    obviously lying, despite it being one of the ten grand rules they
    shouldn’t do, should we still call them Christians?

  • cipher

    Experience has taught me that people like Barton are often in such profound states of denial that they actually believe what they say. That actually makes me angrier than I would be if they were merely lying.

    In any case, the people who comprise their constituency are so intellectually challenged they’d swallow whole whatever these guys are peddling.

  • Rain

    He’s either: 1) Incredibly incompetent, or 2) An amazingly successful psychotic sociopath poe who gets thrills from getting away with this crap with the rubes whom he secretly hates, while simultaneously ticking off his haters. Not sure if it’s 1 or 2.

  • Piet Puk

    What we call them, does not matter. What they call themselfs, and what rules they think applies to them, is what matters.
    Most christians would not be considered christians by a lot of other christians.

  • Gus Snarp

    No, they’ll just pull the old “We’re not perfect, just forgiven” excuse. In other words, as long as we believe in Jesus we can get away with anything because he’ll forgive us. Or: the Ten Commandments are for other people, for us their more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual “rules”.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Funny. Shias think the same thing about Sunnis, and vice versa. Large swathes of Pakistani Muslims don’t believe other Pakistani Muslims are actually Muslims.

  • C Peterson

    “Christian pseudo-historian” is a redundancy.

  • Stev84

    The very last paragraph is awesome

  • Machintelligence

    Barton is a truly despicable man.

    Daffy says it best:

  • DougI

    Gee, what’s next, will he be taking a story from a Louis L’Amore novel and pretend it’s historical fact? Oh wait….

  • Artor

    Why do you feel the need to insult cockroaches by comparing Barton to them? No cockroach has ever deliberately told a bald-faced lie to gullible followers like Barton does as the mainstay of his career. I would literally be happier to eat a meal with roaches on my table than with Barton present.

  • Artor

    Acknowledgement of reality is what it will take. Ain’t gonna happen.

  • Artor

    Barton really does have many of the original documents he mis-quotes. He has no excuse for claiming that his statements are true. He KNOWS they are lies, and he still claims that he’s telling the Truth ™.

  • Artor

    Barton really does have many of the original documents he mis-quotes. He has no excuse for claiming that his statements are true. He KNOWS they are lies, and he still claims that he’s telling the Truth ™.

  • Jennifer

    He riles up the masses and that leads to bigger paychecks for him. The ‘ministry’ is about money primarily and control secondarily. Preachers are sociopaths of the highest order.

  • WallofSleep

    Dominionists like Barton couldn’t give a crap about Jewish people beyond using the “Judeo” beard/prefix as cover for their Christian supremacist ideology.

  • Charles Lehmann

    I don’t know if he’s consciously lying. It sounds like he’s so strongly locked into his world-view (as a part of the persecuted majority) that he’s not capable of accepting anything that contradicts it. It may just be Weapons Grade Cognitive Dissonance.

    Or, it could be that he’s a slimy, immoral, opportunistic leech.

  • Castilliano

    Seems to?
    Ben Carson’s (Christianity made) “America the Beautiful” book has gone bestseller due to the Prayer Breakfast fiasco and resulting interviews.
    What we need is a well-researched counterargument by a creditable historian. Get the debate going, and our facts should outweigh their ‘facts’.

    So…who’s up for writing a book?

  • kk

    Barton is nothing other than a damn fool.

  • chicago dyke

    leeches only want your blood, which sustains and nourishes them. barton wants your money.

  • Kwagmire

    It should also be pointed out that there is a third reason what he said was false.

    “Psychologically harmful” does not mean brain damage. Any such characterization is so fantastically sensationalized and inaccurate the rest of the statement should be called into question.

    Does anyone ever put up their hand in church and ask for clarification or ask even simple questions? It might be time for me to return to the “flock” merely to do so.

  • LonesomeDove

    I like when Barton tried to quote fictional western author Louie L’Amour as a ‘historical fact’ to defend the reason for the second amendment and as a reason to have guns in schools –

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    “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.”

    Isn’t it not “practically” blasphemous, but fully blasphemous? The majority of jewish traditions believe that their messiah has not yet come. It gets weird when you get into messianic jewish belief.

  • Witchgawd

    Ken Ham, Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron agree.

  • jaycubed

    The primary document establishing both the existence and the rules of the United States is the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution is a collectivist, secular and atheist document.

    The collectivism is established by the first three words, “We The People”. It is not from any God, any ruler or any “natural law” that the authority & legitimacy of the United States Constitution & Government comes from: it comes only from the collective actions of its citizens, “We The People.”

    The purpose of the Constitution is secular, to establish a form & rules for governance (The Declaration of Independence is a secular, but not atheist, document since its purpose is secular while it contains several mentions of God.

    The atheism is demonstrated by a complete lack of mention of God anywhere in the Constitution. The Constitution is totally “without God”, the meaning of the word “atheist”. Religion is only mentioned twice, and both times in the negative: NO Religious test for office (Article VI, paragraph 3), and NO establishment of Religion (1st Amendment).

    The United States is not a “Christian” nation, it is a secular nation and it is an atheist nation; which nevertheless protects the rights of Christians and everybody else to Believe in whatever they want and personally practice whatever they want to as long as those practices are not illegal (like child rape or mutilation, human sacrifice, etc.) or forced upon people of different Beliefs (like enforced prayer in public schools).

  • drdave

    Kwagmire is correct. There is quite a difference between psychological harm and neurological harm (brain damage).

  • Randomfactor

    You mean, besides Chris Rodda?

  • MarkSebree

    Perhaps a better metaphor would have been “has a moral compass that is missing its needle”.

  • MarkSebree

    Why is that an “either/or” choice? There is no reason at all why he cannot be both incredibly incompetent AND an amazingly successful psychotic sociopath.

  • David Starner

    That type of hostility does nothing to build a better world. Warren Throckmorton has put a lot of work into debunking Barton because he is a Christian historian and believes that following the truth is important to that.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    How then to describe the people who believe him and send him money, lots of money?

  • Hemant Mehta

    Ellery wanted to respond to this comment, but there were Disqus issues, so I’ll post it on his behalf:

    Many people assume there is some connection between the Bible and the Constitution. But there is nothing in the Constitution about the Bible and there is nothing in the Bible relevant to democracy or our Constitution. Our Constitution never once mentions God or Christianity or any Commandments. It is a purely humanistic document. The preamble begins, “We the people… do ordain and establish…

    The Constitution mentions religion just twice, and both times the word “no” is attached. The first mention is in Art. VI “no religious test shall ever be required…” The second time is in the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Constitution is a purely humanistic, religiously neutral, secular, and political document. No delegate thought the idea of free voting by common people came from divine revelation.

    It is significant that the Constitution does not call for any worship or ask for any divine blessing. The Constitution’s oath for taking office does NOT contain the phrase “so help me God”. That has been appended by various oath-takers, probably for political “spin”. And one is not required to place a hand on the Bible.

    The writers of the Constitution were very careful to distinguish between an oath vs. affirmation, “I do swear or affirm”, because oath-swearing had religious connotations. “Affirm” was to assure freedom from religion.

    The Bible never once mentions democracy. The Bible never once mentions freedom of speech or freedom of religion. It does not mention checks and balances and limitations on the power of the executive; nor an independent judicial branch; it does not mention elections or voting.

    The Bible does not even mention tolerance for other believers, much less non-believers.

    The Commandments—10 or all 613 of them—do not represent American society. The Bible provides no model for ‘good’ government or for personal freedoms. The Bible is a purely religious/theological document for some believers.

    We are not a Christian nation, nor a Judeo-Christian nation. We are a Constitutional nation.

    And I note that the Declaration of Independence is not any part of the Constitution and no part of our laws. Not a single legal decision by SCOTUS is based on the DOI. It is a poetic document, intended to stir emotions and to override the then-prevalent notion of the “divine right of kings”. The DOI is equally for religious independence from church authorities as for political independence.

  • Jeff Baker

    “the moral compass of a cockroach…” Perfect! Quote him!

  • Castilliano

    Book link is under “About the Author” for those following Randomfactor’s link.
    Great resource for arguers and edifying for history buffs.
    Maybe Rodda would revise it for the target audience, mainstream Christians?

    Pamphlets are nice, too. :)

    (Oh, and I meant credible, not creditable in that 1st post…)

  • Keulan

    Comparing David Barton to cockroaches is an insult to cockroaches.

  • C Peterson

    Hostility? Well, I’d say you’re taking a slightly snarky comment a little too seriously. That said, however, there’s a good deal of truth in it. As in so many other areas, Christianity either forces a historian to be bad, or forces him to engage in some sort of compartmentalization. A Christian historian believes that Jesus existed, despite the lack of evidence reaching any sort of academic standards. He believes in the historicity of the New Testament, despite the fact that we know much of it is not. Many will believe in Old Testament falsehoods: a young Earth, the Flood, Adam and Eve, the Exodus. So yes, by and large, Christian historians are pseudo-historians.

  • usorthem3

    A gaggle?

  • RJ (TO)

    The thing is, these pseudo-christian mouthpieces have their followers convinced that any criticism aimed at their work is a satan-induced attack on their faith and thus their like-minded followers’ faith as well. We all know how well that goes over. Christians love to feel outraged.