The Religious Right likes to invoke American history to advance its agenda, but sometimes the truth of that history doesn’t fit with the fundamentalist narrative. When that happens, people like David Barton decide to write revisionist textbooks and peddle those books to public schools.
Barton is the founder and president of WallBuilders, a Texas-based Religious Right group that claims to present “America's forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on our moral, religious and constitutional heritage.” (He is also a former vice chair of the Texas Republican Party.)
Barton claims that through “exhaustive research” he has become an “expert in historical and constitutional issues” and that he owns a “massive library” filled with “tens of thousands of original writings from the Founding Era.” What he does not say is far more telling – he makes no mention of any degrees or training in history, because he doesn’t have any.
Yet Barton has co-written a textbook on American history called Drive Thru History America: Foundations of Character, which is available in versions intended for private/home schools and for public schools. The Texas Freedom Network asked Steven K. Green, a history and law professor at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., to evaluate the book for its appropriateness for use in public schools.
Green, former legal director here at Americans United, found it “inappropriate for use in public schools because it includes devotional religious content that seeks to impose particular religious truth-claims on students.”
Among the claims the book makes:
- “George Washington’s skillful maneuvering and strategic retreat and a providential intervention saved the Continental Army.” (p. 55)
- [Benjamin] Franklin “turned to God in order to know what was true.” (p. 29)
- “The biblical worldview upon which this nation was founded led Americans to see that no separation existed between the sacred and the secular. Every area of life was sacred and was to be lived ‘as working for the Lord.’” (p. 12)
Barton can’t seem to bother with facts. The Founding Fathers were clear in their writings that they believed strongly in the separation of church and state.
Most notably, Thomas Jefferson said in an 1802 letter to a Baptist association:
“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.”
Drive Thru History America is a revisionist, biased text written by a hack historian and it should be kept out of all classrooms. As my colleague Rob Boston said of Barton in an extended expose in 2009: “Bad history remains Barton’s bread and butter. His efforts to influence Texas’ social studies standards will be a big test of his political clout.”
Public schools should stay far away from what Barton is selling. If they don’t, Americans United will be there, ready to defend the wall of separation.