Christian Group Promotes Upcoming Summit with a James Madison Quotation So Fake That Even David Barton Disavows It

Later this month, conservative Christians will gather in Washington, D.C. for the Values Voter Summit, a conference that will bring together brilliant conservative minds like Rep. Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck, Sen. Ted Cruz, and Rick Santorum.

If you were to sign up for the event, you would get a letter from the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins which thanks you for registering and reminds you that even one of our Founding Fathers wanted to see God in the government:

James Madison, the Father of the United States Constitution said, “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 our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government: upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.” Please pray with us that VVS will help equip families, churches, and communities across the United States to be active citizens that glorify God in the public square.

Just one problem with that: Madison never said it. It’s nowhere in his writings. The fact that pseudo-historian David Barton quoted it in the original version of his book The Myth of Separation is just more evidence that it’s fictional.

Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State explains how we know Madison never said anything like this:

The AU press release notes that in 1993, the curators of the Madison Papers at the University of Virginia were asked if they could verify this quote. They could not.

“We did not find anything in our files remotely like the sentiment expressed in the extract you sent us,” curators John Stagg and David Mattern wrote. “In addition, the idea is inconsistent with everything we know about Madison’s views on religion and government, views which he expressed time and time again in public and in private.”

In colonial Virginia, Madison helped lead the fight to end the state church. His “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” is a list of 15 reasons why church and state must be separate, each one a rebuke to the Religious Right.

During Madison’s presidency, he vetoed two bills, one that would have given a church in Washington, D.C., a symbolic charter to care for the poor and another that would have granted some surplus federal land to a church. In both cases, Madison insisted that the measures violated the First Amendment. (Madison ought to know, since he helped write it.)

Boston also talks about the late Professor Robert S. Alley, who also debunked the quotation beginning on p. 315 of this scholarly paper.

Tony Perkins might be interested in learning that even his buddy David Barton removed references to the quotation from subsequent editions of his book. On Barton’s WallBuilders website, he writes that the quotation is unconfirmed and should not be used by anyone without more evidence (Barton said that!)

This quotation, like the others in this list, has been used in numerous modern works as well as works dating back to 1939. These words have not been found in any of Madison’s writings. However, the key thought of the necessity of individual self-government according to a Biblical standard is reflective of Madison’s expressed beliefs.

Despite other quotations consistent with the emphasis of the one in question above, this specific quotation remains unconfirmed, and it should not be used unless it can be verified in an original primary source document.


Madison, like the other Founding Fathers, wanted separation of church and state. Their thinking was: you can have your religion, but we ought to govern by the facts. Freedom of religion was so important to them that they enshrined their beliefs in the First Amendment.

To suggest that Tony Perkin’s God belongs in our government shows how little he knows about history and how badly he distorts his own faith.

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.

  • Tainda

    Why am I shocked? How can I be surprised when they pull shit out of their asses? A small part of Little Tainda dies every day with stuff like this.

  • Bitter Lizard

    Most people would consider the notion that theists are all inherently dishonest to be an unfair stereotype, but I seriously wonder if there’s just something about being a theist that makes you more inclined to lie.

    A theist, as inferred by the definition, is someone who believes they can assert that things are true without evidence, so how much of a leap is it really that they should think it’s okay to just make up whatever “facts” they want to? If you believe “religious faith” is acceptable, you support undermining any basis on which truth can even be meaningfully determined in the first place. It stands to reason that having religious faith would generally make you a more dishonest person.

    • Rationalist1

      The end justifies the means for many.

    • Matt D

      I’ve seen a lot of theists literally use their imaginations to generate answers when they have none. This is the equivalent of making up fan fiction to keep your favorite show going, but I can’t really tell if this is done for entertainment, or subterfuge.

      Perhaps they believe that anything goes, as long as the core of their message is intact (not like it’s complicated…..obey or suffer). I suspect the horror of said message is part of the reason so many are compelled to spread it around….with nobody to share it with, the uncertainty would drive them mad.

      • WallofSleep

        I know them. It’s particularly grating when the same people pat you on the head and say “My, what an imagination you have” while you’re conveying known, observable facts about a subject like evolution, for example.

      • Bitter Lizard

        That’s part of my point. If unsubstantiated assertion is considered a good basis for truth, the word “lie” just doesn’t mean the same thing as it does to a reality-based person. Theists have a hard time even understanding what the word “lie” means sometimes.

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          I, and probably most of us, have seen quite a few theists online and even in person make up things about people whole cloth and call it an opinion. Nasty little gits.

          • Bitter Lizard

            On a related note, I took a screenshot of an exchange with kelemi earlier today that illustrates some of my points. kelemi was calling pretty much everyone else a “liar”, and didn’t quite seem to understand what that meant, but when he was caught in an actual lie he didn’t seem to even understand what the nature of the objection was. This supports my contention that, if unsubstantiated assertion is considered an adequate basis for belief, the word “lie” loses some of its meaning. It’s possible that having a faith-based perspective distorts your ability to understand the concept of lying. Exhibit A:

            • C.L. Honeycutt

              I don’t get not copping to a mistake that is shown to you and turning it into a lie. We’re going to accidentally put hypocrisy and errors and prejudices and bad arguments into print; we’re human, that’s not a big deal. But they always insist on compounding it and destroying anyone’s ability to want to bother with them.

              I modify my opinion about something almost every day. Many of those opinions carry the qualifier, “I think ‘m right on this, but I understand why someone said otherwise, and could even agree with them.” I even hold positions that make me personally uncomfortable because I think they’re more intellectually honest. What in the world is wrong with “Oops, my bad”, or “Let me try this a different way,” or hell, even just working out whether they believe they’re wrong from what they’ve been shown, and, if they still think they’re right, defending the words they actually used?

              Or even just not responding and letting it go. Fuck.


              • Bitter Lizard

                With kelemi, I really got the impression that he was having trouble understanding what “lying” is. He accused me of being a liar for saying something that was proven true, denied being a liar even after it was proven, and even after I basically beat him over the head with the facts repeatedly he still seemed to think the central issue was that other people called him stupid, too (“the other kids did it first!”). He really reminded me of a child who knew he was in trouble, but couldn’t figure out why.

    • JET

      Christianity… Making up shit for almost 2000 years.

      • WallofSleep

        That’s not entirely true. They didn’t have to “make shit up” in order to get the xian ball rolling. They just plagiarized the shit out of other made up shit.

    • momtarkle

      I’m sorry, BL, but I can’t agree that misguided (in atheist’s minds) equals dishonest. People thinking differently than you or me does not make them inferior to us. Different, yes.

      • The Other Weirdo

        Wait, are you saying that making up quotes to make one’s point is goodguided?

        • momtarkle


          • The Other Weirdo

            Then I don’t understand your point. Either the quote is made up or it isn’t. Neither case requires anything in an atheist’s mind(or a theist’s mind) because this matter isn’t subject to belief.

            • momtarkle

              That quote was made up. A Christian made up that quote.

              All Christians make up quotes. Right?

              • The Other Weirdo

                Isn’t that moving the goalposts? We weren’t talking about all Christians, we were talking about a very specific group.

                • momtarkle

                  I don’t think that Bitter Lizard was talking about a “very specific group”. (Please re-read his post.) I was not.

                • The Other Weirdo

                  Ah. My mistake.

                • momtarkle

                  Thanks for that. (I think.)

                • The Other Weirdo

                  What? You can’t even take an apology without suspicion?

                • momtarkle

                  I apologize for not properly accepting your apology. I now, without reservation, accept that apology……..but, really TOW, I took noah fence.

      • Bitter Lizard

        I should clarify my point. When I say “dishonest” or “lie” I’m not talking about statements like “God exists” or “Jesus was born of a virgin” that they sincerely believe. I’m talking about making things up from whole cloth, like in Hemant’s example. My point is that, if assertions without evidence are considered an acceptable basis for truth, doesn’t that implicitly make it more acceptable to fabricate? I think someone who believes their assertions require support has a higher standard for truth than someone who does not.

        And I do disagree with your last point: I think irrational thinking is genuinely inferior to rational thinking, even for ethical reasons alone.

        • momtarkle

          Re: your last sentence – But I don’t think that what you are calling irrational thinking is thought to be irrational thought by the irrational thinker.

          • The Other Weirdo

            How is that relevant?

            • momtarkle

              For you, it is apparently not.

              • The Other Weirdo

                That’s an evasion.

          • Bitter Lizard

            No, but I’m not a relativist, so I find that irrelevant. If you take a non-relativistic standpoint, you believe that some things are true and others are not. Believing that an irrational thought is rational is, in itself, irrational. You seem to be flirting with a relativistic position, but I’m not sure you intend to or understand what that means.

            • momtarkle

              I don’t understand what that means.

              • Bitter Lizard

                Basically, epistemological relativism is the idea that truth is completely relative. No statement can be objectively more true than another. Thus, Christianity and atheism can both be equally correct “ways of looking at the world”, neither is inferior, they’re just “different”. So your statements sort of imply that you’re leaning in this direction. The thing about relativism, though, is that in order for it to be consistent, it has to be all-encompassing. Thus, there is no objective “truth” about whether OJ killed his wife, only different “perspectives”. The idea that the world is flat is no less true than the idea that it’s round. And so on.

                There are ivory tower philosophers who actually defend this kind of consistent relativism, but in my experience, when regular people use relativistic language, they aren’t really thinking through the broader implications of relativism. I would guess if you were falsely accused of murder, for example, you would find the idea of objective truth pretty important. And you probably accept objective truth in most areas of your life. But you seem to lean towards relativism when it comes to religion, and philosophically, that would contradict your non-relativism in other areas of knowledge.

                • momtarkle

                  OK, BL (and gang), here’s what I meant: If I strongly believe something and someone else strongly disbelieves that thing, I don’t think that makes him/her a liar. Maybe his/her reasoning is flawed; maybe mine is. I don’t think that everyone that disagrees with me is necessarily a liar, at least on purpose.

                  YOU WIN! Does that help?

                  Don’t bite me.

          • C.L. Honeycutt

            People inside a group, whether it be a social construct like a cult or a methodology like a decision-making process, are almost never qualified to look objectively at what they do. Irrational people can’t analyze their behavior. They can sometimes have it explained by an outsider, but it’s self-reinforcing.

            This, by the way, is why Science works and Religion does not, and why modern atheism works and theism does not. In the two former cases, there are many, many sub-groups in some form of competition and jostling up against each other. The diversity tends to winnow out in-group thinking.

            It’s also one reason why uncivil responses are as necessary as civil ones, not namin’ names or anything.

          • baal

            The fact that an irrational thought is irrational is independent of the thinker. Let’s say that in an example, blue skies make my goldfish into superman. I could entirely believe that and not think I’m being irrational. I would be irrational regardless of my personal intent to deceive or my own perceived self analysis of my thinking.

          • Fentwin

            “But I don’t think that what you are calling irrational thinking is thought to be irrational thought by the irrational thinker.”
            i.e. A skunk does not think that it stinks?

            • momtarkle

              I don’t know what a skunk thinks (but do I think that they DO think). I believe that they spray their “stink” to repel predators. To hazard a guess, I would say that they do not find that smell to be offensive to them.

              Everybody that doesn’t give a shit about this, please down vote me.

          • guest

            So an irrational person’s irrational perception of their own irrational thoughts has any bearing whatsoever on what is actually true in the real world?

            • momtarkle

              But, how is it determined “what is actually true in the real world”?

      • Spuddie

        I fail to see how spinning outright fictions and passing it off as a factual statement to be used to support an argument is merely “misguided”.

        People whose idea of “simply thinking differently” includes public displays of dishonesty for irrational motives ARE vastly inferior to those who make efforts to tell the truth and act reasonably.

    • Art_Vandelay

      I agree and I think another important factor is that once you accept religious faith as the greatest moral virtue that one can have, it’s easy to see yourself as a good person in spite of your actions. For atheists…all we have is our actions to be judged on. We don’t think it’s virtuous to believe that the universe is 14 billion years old. How many immoral assholes do you know who immediately get perceived as good people just for wearing ancient Roman torture apparatus around their neck or telling someone that their sending prayers on Facebook?

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        The lack of self-examination is staggering. They don’t look at an action they took and ask themselves, “Was this the moral/ethical thing to do?” They assume it was moral because they did it and they’re “good”.

        It sounds an awful lot like jingoism on a personal level, actually.

    • baal

      I think you’re correct that once you’re trained to accept assertions as facts, it leads to a cognitive defect where folks avoid critical thinking. That would lead someone to ‘lie’ and not recognize they are doing it.

      OTOH – people are more than capable of creating thought ‘silos’ were one type of thinking is used for some issues and a different set of thinking is used for other issues. I’ve been known to identify such patterns in people and when they piss me off, I start reciting ideas that create internal mental conflict between the silos. Usually it just makes them mad but I have had folks all but have mental breakdowns in front of me as a result.

      Edit: I haven’t looked but I wonder if anyone has done some cognitive neuroscience testing on your theory.

      • Bitter Lizard

        Yes, I think you’re right regarding the “silos”. If someone applied the same “logic” they use to determine that Jesus was the son of God and also God and born of a virgin to, say, driving an automobile, they would crash and burn and die pretty quickly. But I think, as an extension to my reply to momtarkle, most defense of religious faith encompasses a sort of selective relativism. Religious apologists (including faitheists) are rarely consistent relativists, but seem to go to a place where “truth is whatever you want it to be” when it suits their own agendas. Truth only matters when it benefits them.

      • Bitter Lizard

        Edit: I haven’t looked but I wonder if anyone has done some cognitive neuroscience testing on your theory.

        I highly doubt it. I should probably refine my line of thinking to something that can be argued by logic alone rather than one that would be hard to measure in practice (e.g. “theists lie more than nontheists on a daily basis”). I’ll give it a shot.

        (1) The notion that assertions unsubstantiated by logical or evidential content are acceptable forms of truth tautologically broadens “acceptable truth” to include unsubstantiated assertions.

        (2) An unsubstantiated assertion that is created deliberately to serve an agenda is a lie.

        (3) Hence, to someone who accepts the notion described in “1″, there is overlap between lies and acceptable truth. You could conceivably make the distinction that lies as described as “2″ are “created deliberately to serve an agenda”. But substantiated, true assertions that are created deliberately to serve agendas aren’t lies. Since both substantiated and unsubstantiated assertions are equally valid forms of truth, there is no inherent reason to think there’s a distinction on their value based on intent.

        (4) So many lies are just as good as form of truth as any according to the acceptance of the notion described in “1″.

        Theists don’t consciously accept this line of thinking, of course. If I went around making up unsubstantiated assertions about one of them, that theist would probably rightly call me a liar. But that just represents a contradiction in their thinking.

    • momtarkle

      OK, group, BL states that:

      “A theist, as inferred by the definition, is someone who believes they
      can assert that things are true without evidence, so how much of a leap
      is it really that they should think it’s okay to just make up whatever
      “facts” they want to?”

      And, he continues, “It stands to reason that having religious faith would generally make you a more dishonest person.”

      Please play me this game: Up vote = agree with the inference and generalization; Down vote = disagree with either the inference or the generalization; no vote = momtarkle is a time-wasting dickhead.

      • momtarkle

        A three-way tie! I win!

  • GubbaBumpkin

    This reminds me of Arguments creationists should not use at Answers In Genesis.

  • Rain

    Please pray with us that

    I don’t think I need to translate that phrase from “marketing speak” into plain English. Hopefully the dear readers are savvy enough to capisce the real meaning already. (Yes, it means “Let’s go, Jack. I’m red-hot!”. See the movie Reefer Madness (1936) for more details.)

    • Terry Firma

      If I may be so pedantic: It’s spelled capisce, from the Italian verb capire (“to understand”) and from Latin capere (“to grasp”).

      • Rain

        Corrected, thanks. Correctamundo.

      • Mario Strada

        Thank you Terry. I see it spelled and pronounced a million different ways all the time. I gave up correcting people. The same with “Bruschetta” and a few other words. Brusseta? Good enough for government work. Capiss? Excellent. Now go away.

        • Terry Firma

          I know, Mario. It’s enough to drown oneself in expresso or capucinno. ;-)

        • Rain

          Maybe if everyone corrected everyone more, the internet would be a better place with rainbows.

  • C Peterson

    Everything Christians believe is just made-up nonsense. The only difference here is that the evidence they are wrong is indisputable, rather than simply overwhelming.

  • Spuddie

    When professional liars are calling you out on something, it must be so dishonest it enters the ultra-violet spectrum of whopping lies.

    It is doubtful the guy who brought popularity to the phrase “tyranny of the majority” would be used in an honest fashion to endorse exercising majority privilege over the concerns of minority beliefs and rights.

  • compl3x

    Lie about one of the founding fathers, how patriotic.

    • Randy Meyer

      That’s the Republican way!

  • ThyGoddess

    Just a request… Even if Madison had said that, can these people PLEASE stop viewing the US founding fathers as some sort of flawless, perfect all-knowing gods of thinking? They were humans just like us, and they can have antiquated ideas just like us.

    They can be WRONG. Just because they’re so called founding fathers doesn’t mean that they were absolute in everything.

    • Tainda

      They are flawless, perfect, all-knowing gods until they disagree with them

      • Hat Stealer

        Nonsense. The founding fathers would never say anything that I disagree with. Not if I stick my fingers in my ears and sing “LALALALA CAN’THEAR YOU” over and over again.

    • The Other Weirdo

      It’s funny how only the Sith speak in absolutes.

      • WallofSleep

        Was Kenobi trying to teach Skywalker about irony with that line?

        • The Other Weirdo

          I think he was trying to teach him about missing the forest for all the trees.

          • C.L. Honeycutt

            Missing the forest is a good thing, though. See Episode VI, Act 2.

            There are so many awful things about Star Wars, but I love Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon to death. They lie, cheat, intimidate and steal almost nonstop, but always ethically, and never try to convince anyone that they’re right in doing so or to follow their example. They’re perfect Jedi.

    • icecreamassassin

      Blasphemy! How *dare* you question the infallibility of The Founding Fathers! What would you rather do, analyze and evaluate concepts or ideas based upon the content and merit of the ideas? You want to waste peoples’ time by asking them to think for themselves? Do you realize how much *work* and *effort* that requires? Better to just by fiat declare some entities to be infallible and just assume that their word is objective, universal law.

    • Spuddie

      We already know their notions of what constituted chattel property left a lot to be desired. =)

  • WallofSleep

    Speaking of Perkins, Jindal recently appointed him to the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement.

  • Nemo

    Thou shalt not bear false witness against they neighbor. Dead guys from over a few centuries ago are perfectly acceptable, though.

  • Baby_Raptor

    When David Fucking Barton says you’re full of shit, it’s time to pack it up and go home.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      But the thing is, that SHOULD mean you’re on the right track!

      Onoes, they’ve figured out how to combat us! Increase their rationality levels by 1% (to 1.21%) and they’re no longer predictable. once they refine the numbers, Physics will go right out the window!

      • Baby_Raptor

        If they break physics, we’ll never hear the end of their claims they’ve proven god. We must avert this disaster!

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          Hmmm. So we have to reduce the Average Christian Rationality of Response to pre-October 2nd levels, or they’ll never shut up?

          I’m not sure if this is a win-win or a lose-lose.

  • Mitch

    Thanks goodness I’ll be gone that weekend, I don’t want any of that condensed crazy wafting my way.

    On a positive note, that is a very classy hotel. Great food. :)

  • Mira

    The fact that it is grammatically incorrect as well should be a red flag…he seems pretty strict about his grammar rules in his writings that I have read!