November 2011 Church & State | People & Events

“Christian nation” advocate David Barton is suing three people in Texas who he says have defamed him.

Barton’s lawsuit asserts that Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau, who ran for the Texas State Board of Education in 2010, defamed Barton by publishing an ad noting that Barton has had ties to white supremacists. He’s also suing an internet journalist named W.S. Smith who asserted that Barton is a liar.

Claims about Barton’s connections to white supremacism go back to 1991, when the Institute for First Amendment Studies reported that the Religious Right leader had addressed a gathering in Colorado sponsored by Scriptures for America, a group headed by an extremist preacher named Pete Peters.

At the Colorado event, Barton’s fellow speakers included anti-Semites, white supremacists and a Holocaust denier. Later that year, Barton spoke at Kingdom Covenant College in Grants Pass, Ore., an institution affiliated with the racist and anti-Semitic “Christian identity” movement.

Barton’s appearances before these groups is old news. They were reported in Church & State in 1993 and were later noted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in a lengthy 1994 analysis of the Religious Right. More recently, Media Matters brought up the Barton appearances last year when Barton became more prominent due to his frequent appearances on Fox News Channel’s Glenn Beck program.

Barton did not sue Americans United, the ADL or Media Matters.

Rob Boston, AU assistant director of communications, noted in his 2000 book Close Encounters with the Religious Right that there is no evidence that Barton himself is a racist or an anti-Semite – but the fact that he twice addressed these groups is well known. At the time, a Barton assistant penned a letter about the matter claiming that Barton didn’t realize the extremist nature of these groups when he agreed to speak to them.

On AU’s “Wall of Separation” blog, Boston also dealt with the claim that Barton is a liar.

“Is Barton a liar?” Boston asked. “He certainly spreads misinformation about American history, but whether he does so knowingly is a matter of debate. Barton seems to believe what he’s saying is true – even though it’s not.

“It’s the legal equivalent of a schoolyard bully’s shakedown,” Boston wrote. “Barton has become famous (and wealthy) through his promotion of ‘Christian nation’ claptrap. He has also become a public figure, someone who is open to criticism and barbs. He needs to develop a thicker skin.”