David Barton: Pluralism not the goal of the First Amendment

Now I know where Bryan Fischer gets at least some of his material.

On an April 11, 2011 archived program, a brief statement is made by Barton which sounds a lot like Bryan Fischer’s argument that Christianity is the only religion covered by the First Amendment.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Unearthing America’s Christian Foundations, part 1

(at about the 12 minute mark, a narrator introduces David Barton)

This is David Barton with another moment from America’s history. Joseph Story is one of the most important names in American jurisprudence. Not only was he placed on the US Supreme Court by President James Madison, he also founded Harvard Law School and authored numerous legal works on the Constitution. While today’s revisionists claim that the goal of the First Amendment was absolute religious pluralism, Joseph Story vehemently disagreed. He declared, “The real object of the First Amendment was not to encourage, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity, but was to exclude all rivalry among Christian denominations.” According to Founder Joseph Story, Christianity, not pluralism, was the goal of the Founding Fathers in the First Amendment for only a Christian nation is tolerant and thus is truly pluralistic.

Barton must have another version of Story’s book because the wording is a little different in his quote than what I found in Google’s archived copy:

The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects…

Barton’s brief argument is worded somewhat differently that Bryan Fischer’s but the effect is the same. According to Barton, pluralism springs from non-pluralism. I addressed Fischer’s argument here and here. One must go on and read all of what Story has to say about the First Amendment. Furthermore, taken to logical conclusion, this argument would establish Christianity as the religion of the nation, something the Founders specifically did not do.  

David Barton is a favorite of Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich, two potential GOP Presidential candidates. Huckabee gushed recently

I just wish that every single young person in America would be able to be under his tutelage and understand something about who we really are as a nation. I almost wish that there would be a simultaneous telecast and all Americans would be forced, forced at gunpoint no less, to listen to every David Barton message and I think our country would be better for it. I wish it’d happen.

Gingrich has said that if (when) he runs for President, he will call on Barton for help. In light of Barton’s view of the First Amendment, I hope media inquire about Huckabee’s and Gingrich’s view of the First Amendment. Do they believe it only applies to Christians?

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  • Jayhuck

    I am honestly astonished that he (Huckabee) actually said those words. I think the title of The State Column says it all:

    Mike Huckabee: Americans to be indoctrinated at gunpoint

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    One thing that’s not totally clear: do the “archive dates” at the Wallbuilders site reflect the original Web-podcast date, or might some of these originally have been heard several years ago but are only just now being thrown up (NPI) into the publicly accessible Web archives?

    (Basically, I’m wondering if this is a very recent and deliberate effort by Barton to run defense for the beleaguered Bryan Fischer, or if it’s just coincidence that an older broadcast about Joseph Story happened to appear in the Web archives now?)

  • http://wthrockmorton.com Warren

    Throbert – Good question. I think it is an old program spliced together to make a recycled web offering. However, the reason for the placement last week might be to defend Fischer.

  • Jayhuck

    It strikes me as unconscionable, or perhaps more honestly a political ploy, for Barton to mention Story’s quote on how the First Amendment was not meant to advance other religions at the expense of Christianity and then completely omit the quote from Story in the same article where he talks about the “dangers of ecclesiastical ambition”. Ugh

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    It strikes me as unconscionable, or perhaps more honestly a political ploy

    From the written synopsis at the Wallbuilder site:

    In fact, many modern-day historians claim that our nation’s Founders were a diverse group of atheists, deists, and political revolutionaries.

    I doubt you’ll find “many” modern-day historians who claim that the Founders were “atheists and deists” while totally forgetting to mention “Christians” at all.

    What many historians do claim, instead, is something closer to “deists and Christians were equally well-represented among the Founders.”

    Also, some secularist historians have claimed that if Jefferson or Thomas Paine were alive today, then either or both of them might today choose to self-identify as “atheist” — but this hypothetical recognizes that both men in their own day rejected the term “atheist,” although it was a word known to them.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    It’s a fascinating form of logic:

    1. I believe XYZ

    2. I admire The Founders

    3. Therefore the Founders believed XYZ

  • Lynn David

    While that comment of Huckabee’s concerning forced indoctrination by Barton appears to be made ‘half-jokingly;’ Huckabee has previously stated (during the 2007/8 Republican presidential primaries) his desire to rewrite the American Constitution. He says it is easier to change than the “Word of Living God.”

    “I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution,” Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. “But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that’s what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view.”

    Such leanings towards dominionism by a possible presidential candidate can be most worrisome.

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  • http://www.ourfoundingtruth.blogspot.com oft

    Furthermore, taken to logical conclusion, this argument would establish Christianity as the religion of the nation, something the Founders specifically did not do. >>>>>

    No. The first amendment restricted only a Christian Church, with free exercise to all. The States could form whatever religion they wanted. The establishment clause is clearly that of Christianity as Madison and Jefferson; as well as the Federalists, claimed the 1st Amendment context rests with the States, and the States formed Christianity as their Religion.

  • Jayhuck

    Oft,

    The States could form whatever religion they wanted. The establishment clause is clearly that of Christianity as Madison and Jefferson; as well as the Federalists, claimed the 1st Amendment context rests with the States, and the States formed Christianity as their Religion.

    What?

  • http://www.exgaywatch.com Emily K

    even if Jefferson DID mean to establish Christianity as the state religion of the US, I doubt that evangelicals today (and most calling for dominionism or establishment of Christianity as the state religion) would appreciate Jefferson’s specific brand of Christianity…

  • Jayhuck

    Yes Emily! Jefferson’s type of Christianity would most certainly not be welcome by most conservative evangelical Christians today.

  • Jayhuck

    Oft:

    The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution explicitly forbids the federal government from enacting any law respecting a religious establishment, and thus forbids either designating an official church for the United States, or interfering with State and local official churches — which were common when the First Amendment was enacted. It did not prevent state governments from establishing official churches. Connecticut continued to do so until it replaced its colonial Charter with the Connecticut Constitution of 1818; Massachusetts retained an establishment of religion in general until 1833.[4] (The Massachusetts system required every man to belong to some church, and pay taxes towards it; while it was formally neutral between denominations, in practice the indifferent would be counted as belonging to the majority denomination, and in some cases religious minorities had trouble being recognized at all.[citation needed]) As of 2010[update] Article III of the Massachusetts constitution still provides, “… the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies politic, or religious societies, to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality, in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.”[5]

    All current State constitutions do mention a Creator,[citation needed] but include guarantees of religious liberty parallel to the First Amendment, but eight (Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) also contain clauses that prohibit atheists from holding public office.[6][7] However, these clauses were held by the U.S. Supreme Court to be unenforceable in the 1961 case of Torcaso v. Watkins, where the court ruled unanimously that such clauses constituted a religious test incompatible with the religious test prohibition in Article 6 Section 3 of the United States Constitution.

    This makes it sound as if some states have changed their view on occasion, and that most prize religious liberty.

  • http://www.ourfoundingtruth.blogspot.com oft

    The Torrasco court overturned 200 years of law, proving secular revisionists have nothing to support their views.

  • http://www.ourfoundingtruth.blogspot.com oft

    Emily,

    Jefferson was one man; that’s all. Yes, he was not a real Christian, however, he was an outlier of the outliers, whose views were not representative of the people, and was the FIFTH choice for principal draftsman of the DOI. He had nothing to do with drafting the Constitution or Bill of Rights; nor even did he help ratify those documents, and his Presidency was after our institutions were clearly established. Yet secular revisionists continue to quote him as their poster boy.

  • Emily K

    Deism was the predominant view of the Founding Fathers at the time, which today’s “Christians” who hope to establish a state religion (sorta like the “communist marxist” nations they rail against) would not accept as being Christian.

    They were basically the equivalent of today’s Unitarian Universalists. The OPPOSITE of the Christianity those Dominionists want to see established.

    Huh, why do these people hate freedom so much?

  • http://www.ourfoundingtruth.blogspot.com oft

    Emily,

    The framers were not Deists, including George Washington. Don’t believe that secular twist. Here is Washington quoting Christ:

    “You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do every thing they can to assist you in this wise intention; and to tie the knot of friendship and union so fast, that nothing shall ever be able to loose it.”

    –SPEECH TO THE DELAWARE CHIEFS

    Head Quarters, Middle Brook, May 12, 1779.

    And Washington took communion as well. So he was Orthodox unlike Jefferson:

    http://ourfoundingtruth.blogspot.com/2011/02/did-george-washington-commune.html

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Oft: Your quote from Washington, and the testimony by others that he sometimes took communion, do help to establish that GW had a positive attitude towards Christianity — but merely having positive views about Christianity does not make one a Christian, much less an “orthodox” Christian, as you want GW to be.

    After all, Jefferson also spoke favorably of Jesus and of Christianity in public remarks — but in his private writings he says candidly that he doesn’t believe either in Jesus’s divinity or in the Resurrection.

    So, in deciding how to interpret the fact of GW sometimes taking communion, the most pertinent question is: “What significance did Washington himself attribute to the ritual of communion? In his own mind, was he doing it in memory of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, or was he, instead, partaking in a rite of brotherhood with fellow Americans whose religious views he didn’t necessarily share?”

    (I do give credit to the author of that “Our Founding Truth” blog for acknowledging that there are different ways to interpret the letters he cites, and that they don’t clearly prove what GW’s beliefs were.)

  • http://www.ourfoundingtruth.blogspot.com oft

    Throbert McGee,

    We can judge no ones heart. That is up to God. GW took communion which precludes him from being a Deist. Also, GW, by taking communion is approving the vicarious blood atonement for sin, which communion represents. He would know from the Bible that he should not take communion unworthily.

    GW made no attacks against the fundamentals of Christianity; Jefferson did.

    GW requested communion with the Presbyterians; maybe it was the only church around, I don’t know. But later in life he walked out of communion. It doesn’t appear to fit with his character to do something he didn’t believe in just to fit in. But you could be right.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    oft#

    You appear to be participating in this conversation with your fingers in your ears.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    GW took communion which precludes him from being a Deist. Also, GW, by taking communion is approving the vicarious blood atonement for sin, which communion represents. He would know from the Bible that he should not take communion unworthily.

    One very lovely Christmas Eve service, a friend took communion.

    He was very new-agey and believed in a Higher Spirit and the God in All of Us and that sort of thing (kinda like Deists) but did not believe that Jesus was divine, that the Bible was authoritative, or in any of the teachings of Christianity. It was just his way of celebrating the Truth in All Religions and Jesus as a Great Teacher and the God that was Present and, well, you get the point.

    If he had known that it would turn him into a Christian, I’m sure he would have refused to participate.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    GW took communion which precludes him from being a Deist. Also, GW, by taking communion is approving the vicarious blood atonement for sin, which communion represents. He would know from the Bible that he should not take communion unworthily.

    I disagree with you here, OFT.

    I mean, I understand the point that for orthodox Christians, communion represents Jesus’s sacrifice to atone for mankind’s sin; and I understand that from the orthodox POV, people who do not accept this meaning of communion are not supposed to partake of it — thus, in theory, participating in orthodox communion ought to signify agreement with the orthodox understanding of what communion is.

    However, Christians who are extremely heterodox in their overall theological views may also be heterodox with regard to the rules for taking communion!

    And Deists — who don’t believe in revealed scripture — may choose to partake or not partake in Christian communion for their own personal reasons (though, obviously, a Deist who partakes of Christian communion is doing so for reasons that an orthodox Christian could not endorse). But whatever the Bible may say about “taking communion unworthily” is not going to be an obstacle for a Deist, because he doesn’t ascribe any special authority to the Bible in the first place.

    In short, I would say that GW’s taking of communion simply proves that this act was not in conflict with his beliefs, or at least that it did not conflict with his beliefs to a degree that bothered his conscience.

  • http://www.ourfoundingtruth.blogspot.com oft

    Throbert McGee,

    Like I said before, taking Communion doesn’t absolutely prove anything. Rather, it is prima facie evidence that GW was an Orthodox Christian.

    However, Christians who are extremely heterodox in their overall theological views may also be heterodox with regard to the rules for taking communion!>>>>

    This does not apply to the Founding Fathers. They understood taking communion put you in the Orthodox box so to speak, which is why John Adams, Jefferson, Allen, and Franklin refused taking it. It wasn’t until William Ellery Channing, who accepted the ordinance in the19th century, allowed unitarians to take it.

    But whatever the Bible may say about “taking communion unworthily” is not going to be an obstacle for a Deist, because he doesn’t ascribe any special authority to the Bible in the first place.>>>>

    A deist did believe taking communion was an obstacle because it would identify a deist with the Orthodox, from which they separated themselves. No deist of the 18th century took communion.

  • Jayhuck

    Oft -

    No deist of the 18th century took communion.

    I’m assuming you have some proof to back up this statement?

  • Jayhuck

    Oft,

    I think you meant to say that Deists were not likely to take communion. That does not mean that absolutely no deists took communion. You seem to have very clearly defined lines for these things, when that isn’t the reality for most people. GW could easily have had some of these views without being a dyed-in-the-wool Deist.

  • http://www.ourfoundingtruth.blogspot.com oft

    Jayhuck,

    Maybe you can find an 18th century Deist who took communion, but I seriously doubt it. That would make interesting research. Deists made it a point not to align themselves with Orthodox Christianity, which Communion represented, therefore, would never partake of that ordinance.

    Taking Communion is prima facie evidence for Orthodoxy, given the educated heterodox rejected it. Especially as GW took Communion in the most Orthodox Fundamentalist sect in the 18th century; the Presbyterians. Meaning, GW knew from his upbringing, and from them before He took it, not to partake unless he believed in what it stood for.

  • http://www.ourfoundingtruth.blogspot.com oft

    Jayhuck,

    David L. Holmes of William and Mary, among others, writes “few founders who were Deists would have participated in either rite” [communion]

    He goes on to explain Deists rejected all sacraments of any church.

  • Teresa

    Oft stated:

    Taking Communion is prima facie evidence for Orthodoxy, given the educated heterodox rejected it. Especially as GW took Communion in the most Orthodox Fundamentalist sect in the 18th century; the Presbyterians. Meaning, GW knew from his upbringing, and from them before He took it, not to partake unless he believed in what it stood for.

    Your statement above is absolutely false. Below are several quotes from Pastors of Churches George Washington attended. Attendance at church signified nothing but a social obligation, having nothing to do with beliefs.

    Oft, if anyone would know what George Washington did it would be the Pastors of the Church he attended. But, because this might not align with what you want to believe, it might be hard to swallow.

    The closing years of his life, save the last two, were passed in Philadelphia, he being then President of the United States. In addition to his eight years’ incumbency of the presidency, he was, during the eight years of the Revolutionary war, and also during the six years that elapsed between the Revolution and the establishment of the Federal government, not only a frequent visitor in Philadelphia, but during a considerable portion of the time a resident of that city. While there he attended the Episcopal churches of which the Rev. William White and the Rev. James Abercromble were rectors. In regard to his being a communicant, no evidence can be so pertinent or so decisive as that of his pastors.

    Bishop White, the father of the Protestant Episcopal church of America, is one of the most eminent names in church history. During a large portion of the period covering nearly a quarter of a century, Washington, with his wife, attended the churches in which Bishop White officiated. In a letter dated Fredericksburg, Aug. 13, 1835, Colonel Mercer sent Bishop White the following inquiry relative to this question:

    “I have a desire, my dear Sir, to know whether Gen. Washington was a communicant of the Protestant Episcopal church, or whether he occasionally went to the communion only, or if ever he did so at all. … No authority can be so authentic and complete as yours on this point.”

    To this inquiry Bishop White replied as follows:

    “Philadelphia, Aug. 15, 1835.

    “Dear Sir: In regard to the subject of your inquiry, truth requires me to say that Gen. Washington never received the communion in the churches of which I am the parochial minister. Mrs. Washington was an habitual communicant.

    … I have been written to by many on that point, and have been obliged to answer them as I now do you. I am respectfully.

    “Your humble servant,

    “WILLIAM WHITE.”

    (Memoir of Bishop White, pp. 196, 197).

    In a standard Christian authority, Sprague’s “Annals of the American Pulpit,” written and compiled by Rev. Wm. B. Sprague, D.D., is a sketch of the life of Rev. James Abercromble, D.D. In this biographical sketch is to be found some very important evidence from the pen of Washington’s other pastor, pertaining to the subject under consideration. I quote the following:

    “One incident in Dr. Abercrombie’s experience as a clergyman, in connection with the Father of his Country, is especially worthy of record; and the following account of it was given by the Doctor himself, in a letter to a friend, in 1831 shortly after there had been some public allusion to it: ‘With respect to the inquiry you make I can only state the following facts; that, as pastor of the Episcopal church, observing that, on sacramental Sundays, Gen. Washington, immediately after the desk and pulpit services, went out with the greater part of the congregation — always leaving Mrs. Washington with the other communicants — she invariably being one — I considered it my duty in a sermon on Public Worship, to state the unhappy tendency of example, particularly of those in elevated stations who uniformly turned their backs upon the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. I acknowledge the remark was intended for the President; and as such he received it. A few days after, in conversation with, I believe, a senator of the United States, he told me he had dined the day before with the President, who in the course of conversation at table said that on the preceding Sunday he had received a very just reproof from the pulpit for always leaving the church before the administration of the Sacrament; that he honored the preacher for his integrity and candor; that he had never sufficiently considered the influence of his example, and that he would not again give cause for the repetition of the reproof; and that, as he had never been a communicant, were he to become one then it would be imputed to an ostentatious display of religious zeal? arising altogether from his elevated station. Accordingly, he never afterwards came on the morning of sacramental Sunday, though at other times he was a constant attendant in the morning’” (Annals of the American Pulpit, Vol. v, p. 394).

  • Teresa

    Finally:

    In February, 1800, a few weeks after. Washington’s death, Jefferson made the following entry in his journal:

    “Dr. Rush told me (he had it from Asa Green) that when the clergy addressed General Washington, on his departure from the government, it was observed in their consultation that he had never, on any occasion, said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Christian religion, and they thought they should so pen their address as to force him at length to disclose publicly whether he was a Christian or not. However, he observed, the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly, except that, which he passed over without notice” (Jefferson’s Works, Vol. iv., p. 572).

    Jefferson further says: “I know that Gouverneur Morris, who claimed to be in his secrets, and believed himself to be so, has often told me that General Washington believed no more in that system [Christianity] than he did” (Ibid).

    Gouverneur Morris was the principal drafter of the Constitution of the United States; he was a member of the Continental Congress, a United States senator from New York, and minister to France. He accepted, to a considerable extent, the skeptical views of French Freethinkers.

    The “Asa” Green mentioned by Jefferson was undoubtedly the Rev. Ashbel Green, chaplain to Congress during Washington’s administration. In an article on Washington’s religion, contributed to the Chicago Tribune, B.F. Underwood says:

    “If there were an Asa Green in Washington’s time he was a man of no prominence, and it is probable the person referred to by Jefferson was the Rev. Dr. Ashbel Green, who served as chaplain to the Congress during the eight years that body sat in Philadelphia, was afterwards president of Princeton College, and the only clerical member of Congress that signed the Declaration of Independence. His name shines illustriously in the annals of the Presbyterian church in the United States.”

    Some years ago I received a letter from Hon. A.B. Bradford of Pennsylvania, relative to Washington’s belief. Mr. Bradford was for a long time a prominent clergyman in the Presbyterian church, and was appointed a consul to China by President Lincoln. His statements help to corroborate the statements of Dr. Wilson, Thomas Jefferson, and Mr. Underwood. He says:

    “I knew Dr. Wilson personally, and have entertained him at my house, on which occasion he said in my hearing what my relative, the Rev. Dr. Ashbel Green of Philadelphia, frequently told me in his study, viz., that during the time that Congress sat in that city the clergy, suspecting from good evidence that Washington was not a believer in the Bible as a revelation from heaven, laid a plan to extort from him a confession, either pro or con, but that the plan failed. Dr. Green was chaplain to Congress during all the time of its sitting in Philadelphia; dined with the President on special invitation nearly every week; was well acquainted with him, and after he had been dead and gone many years, often said in my hearing, though very sorrowfully, of course, that while Washington was very deferential to religion and its ceremonies, like nearly all the founders of the Republic, he was not a Christian, but a Deist.”

  • Jayhuck

    Oft,

    David L. Holmes of William and Mary, among others, writes “few founders who were Deists would have participated in either rite” [communion]

    He goes on to explain Deists rejected all sacraments of any church.

    I don’t think you understood my post. I suggest you read it again.

  • Etaoin Shrdlu

    It’s worth remembering that Story’s statement comes from his book “Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States on the Constitution”. It’s not from a decision of the Supreme Court.

    More importantly, look at the things Story cites in support of his views:

    The first is a book of COMMENTARY on the British Common Law, but Sir William Blackstone – who died in 1780, before America won its independance, and 11 years before the First Amendment was written. Clearly irrelevant.

    Next was the book “The Spirit of the Laws”, written by a Frenchman in 1748. While it (and Blackstone’s work) are important, both clearly have nothing to say about the First Amendment (passed in 1791)!

    Story also relies on excerpts from a brief discussion in ONE committee on the FIRST DRAFT of what eventually became the First Amendment. But aside from the fact the proposal would be changed many times thereafter, all the excerpt really shows (if anything) was concern that the Amendment not be viewed as being hostile to religion – any religion.

    Finally, Story relies on the fact that his home State (Massachusetts) had an established church (Congregationalist). Here’s where irony enters the picture. Story’s Commentary was published in 1833, the same year Massachusetts DISESTABLISHED the church!

    Oh, and Story was 8 years old when the Constitution was drafted, 10 when it was ratified, and 12 when the First Amendment was added. Somehow I doubt he had much first hand knowledge about the process!

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