June 2014 Church & State | People & Events

Discredited Religious Right activist David Barton is at it again. This time he is claiming that it is bad for America that women have the right to vote.

During a May 1 broadcast of his WallBuilders radio program, Barton pined for the supposed “glory days” that existed prior to 1920. He spoke approvingly of the fact that women used to be barred from voting because that is what the Bible recommends.

“So family government precedes civil government and you watch that as colonists came to America, they voted by families,” he said. “And you have to remember back then, husband and wife, I mean the two were considered one. That is the biblical precept....That is a family that is voting. And so the head of the family is traditionally considered to be the husband and even biblically still continues to be so.”

As usual, Barton is incorrect. According to historians working at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, Barton’s retelling is inaccurate.

“[T]ypically, white, male property owners twenty-one or older could vote,” an article on the historical site’s website says. This did not include any representation for women, who were not simply counted as voting when their husband did. The scholars at Williamsburg also noted that early America was far from democratic. 

“In practice, moreover, relatively few of the nation’s inhabitants were able to participate in elections: among the excluded were most African Amer­icans, Native Americans, women, men who had not attained their majority, and white males who did not own land,” the article goes on to say.

Nonetheless, Barton contended that since women gained the right to vote in 1920, in the United States, “we’ve moved into more of a family anarchy kind of thing.”

“[T]he bigotry we’re told they held back then, they didn’t hold,” he said, apparently ignoring the fact that women had few legal rights and African Americans were enslaved. “And what they did was they put the family unit higher than the government unit and they tried to work hard to keep the family together.”

Barton went on to blame the supposed decline of the family for the downfall of America.

“And, as we can show in two or three hundred studies since then, the more you weaken the family, the more it hurts the entire culture and society.”

Barton concluded by claiming that before women could vote, America was “a strong culture, a strong society, and it was based on a strong family that preceded government. And they crafted their policies to protect a strong family.”

The real reason Barton and his allies fear women voters is that, statistically, they tend to support Demo­crats more than Republicans. In recent years, this “gender gap” had made a difference in national elections.

In August 2012, Bryan Fischer, director of issues analysis for the American Family Association, took note of this. Fischer asserted that the only reason President Barack Obama was running closely with then-GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in polls was because women supported him. “Women’s suffrage only thing keeping Obama in the game: Obama down 8 with men, up 8 with women,” Fischer tweeted.

Barton suffered a major humiliation two years ago after the publisher of his book The Jefferson Lies pulled the tome from circulation. Historians and academics, including several conservative Christians, had scored the book for its numerous errors. In response, the publishing firm Thomas Nelson withdrew the book from circulation.

Barton didn’t let the controversy slow him down. He continues to publish material and lecture before crowds of fundamentalist Christians. Warren Throckmorton, a prominent Barton critic who is a professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, noted that Barton recently spoke at a prayer breakfast in Melbourne, Fla., and at Urbana University in Ohio.

In an interview with Florida Today newspaper, Barton even implied that The Jefferson Lies will be reissued.

“Thomas Nelson withdrew the book after two professors criticized it,” Barton said. “But it’s coming back out at some point. You can’t just get rid of history simply because you don’t like it.”