Friday, May 06, 2011
David Barton on The Daily Show: full transcript and videos
Comedy Central/Comedy Partners owns the copyright to this material, which is presented here under "Fair Use" in the interest of furthering political discourse.
Jon Stewart: My guest tonight, an American historian and the founder and president of Wallbuilders, please welcome to the program David Barton.
Sir! Thank you for joining us. I appreciate it. Sit. Thank you for being here.
David Barton: My pleasure, bro.
Stewart: So, here's what happened. So we have Mike Huckabee on the show.
Barton: Right. Good Guy.
Stewart: Very nice guy, good friend of the show; we always have really interesting conversations. So, I'm watching him praise you — he was at a conference and he said David Barton is the greatest historian in America and all children should have to learn from him in their curriculum. (I'm paraphrasing.) And I thought to myself, well, Jeez, I'd like to meet the greatest historian in America who all children should have to learn from, and then I started looking up your stuff and I thought, well, okay, now —
Barton: Dangerous thing to do.
Stewart: — now, this seems odd. This seems odd. And so I asked Mike Huckabee about some of the things that you've said, and he said, "Why don't you ask David Barton himself?" and I said, "Uh, okay."
Barton: And here I am.
Stewart: And so here you are. So, let me ask you — just for our audience that is not familiar with what you do — how would you describe what it is you do?
Barton: I'd say historical reclamation. We, in our company, have about 100,000 documents from before 1812, so documents out of black history, out of religious history, out of constitutional history; you name it. We've got 100,000 originals, so that's what we take a lot of history back to is those original things that happened.
Stewart: And — but it always seems that the history that you take comes back to the idea that we are a more Christian nation than we are living. Is that the —
Barton: No, I would say that's not accurate.
Barton: Now, there's people who point that out, but again, let me give you a good example. I was appointed in Texas as one of the experts to do the history and government standards there —
Stewart: So, you are a curriculum authority?
Barton: For about 20 years, California, Texas, all these states, I do their history and social studies standards, and so I'm asked by the state, by the governor or by the state board of education to do that.
Stewart: But you are — and this may be a misconception — but you are not a historian like in terms of academic historian. You don't have a doctorate in that.
Barton: No, don't have a doctorate in that, no. I've got all the documents, and that's what's been a lot of fun, because I went through history and school and a lot of what I got taught and what I see in the actual documents aren't the same thing, and that's what got me started. I came to some really old documents, and they contradicted what my schoolbooks said, and so what we do now is we say, "All right, publishers: here's what the actual documents are. Print the documents, go back to the originals." And on the issue of religion, being one of the guys appointed in Texas, all my reviews are online [here and here (PDFs)], so there's 43,000 words online of my reviews of the last set of standards — only two subjects do I ever mention Christianity, two issues. One was the teachers recommended taking the study of Christmas out as a holiday. So —
Stewart: You're saying that you are not interested in this —
Barton: Oh, I am. I am. As an emphasis, no, no, no.
Stewart: That is your almost total emphasis.
Barton: No, it's not.
Barton: See, a good example is — see, I know the kind of people who go after me, and when I was on the Texas board, there was a group that did a press release, and all of a sudden MSNBC and the Times and all these other, "Barton's crammin' Christianity down their throats in Texas!" — no, there's 43,000 words, there's two references to Christianity in 43,000 words; that's not a super-big emphasis. Now, not that that's not important to me, but what I teach —
Stewart: Well, I would say, I mean, in Leviticus, you know, being gay is mentioned twice, but people on the Right kind of make a big emphasis out of that, so —
Barton: Well, that's not a history issue. That's not a history issue.
Stewart: Well, no, but I'm just saying that I don't know that two mentions —
Barton: Let me give you another way of looking at it.
Barton: In having done history standards before, publishers come to me and say, "All right, you helped to write the standards, help us do the textbooks." And I understand what my name evokes, so I told the publishers, "Okay, I'll be the editor, but just don't put my name on the textbook. Just leave it off." That textbook that I edited is now the best-selling public-school textbook in America, so historians across the board think it's a great book, they just don't know that I did it.
Stewart: Well, not historians, but I mean —
Barton: Teachers —
Stewart: — when Texas makes a curriculum book, it goes out — I don't think it's a free market thing, I think it just goes out to schools.
Barton: No, it was a free market thing, because I worked with the publishers, not the standards in Texas. So, I went to the publishers — or the publishers went to me — and so —
Stewart: Well, if more people are buying it, then it's clearly better.
Barton: And see, that's what they're doing. Well, yes, exactly. Exactly, but —
Stewart: I think the makers of crack might have something to say about that.
Stewart: Let's get to — because I do, you know — you are an important figure. You go in, you argue in front of the Supreme Court, you go in and you work with our Congress, you work with Congresspeople, you go in and you write curriculum, and I can't help but think that — and in your writings you talk about "reclaiming our forgotten history" —
Stewart: — when it seems to me, someone who probably has a very different perspective on this nation's history, that you are rewriting more than reclaiming —
Barton: Let me give a shot. Let me give a shot at that. One of the things I'm really proud about that we got done in Texas is we took the number of minorities who are covered in the standards from 9% to 25%. The way I did it: I said, "Hey, we're not covering any of the Jewish Founding Fathers. We're also not covering the black Founding Fathers — those elected to office, those who were military heroes. We're also not covering the women of the Revolution. We're also not covering Hispanics in the Revolution." That's forgotten history. I'll bet you most Jewish people can't name the Jewish Founding Fathers, most black people can't name the black Founding Fathers —
Stewart: No, I can: Sandy Koufax.
Barton: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Stewart: Yeah, you're right: Sandy Koufax; that's all I got.
Stewart: So, would you say — so, I am incorrect in saying that you would — because I've seen tapes of you speaking, where you make policy recommendations based on the Bible. Things like "I would like to see the capital gains tax and the estate tax gone because the Bible says so."
Barton: That's right, but those are also speeches given to groups of ministers, and I'm speaking to ministers. That's not a textbook setting; that's a whole different setting. What I'll — see, for example —
Stewart: So, you're saying there is a "wall of separation" —
Barton: Well, there is, but see, you gotta understand where that came from, too. No problem with that.
Stewart: No, a "wall of separation" within you of church and state.
Barton: Uh, no, no. Any more than the Founders wanted. Now, what they wanted was separation of the institutions, never separation of the influence. I mean, they never at any point said, "Hey, God" [gestures, sweeping God to the side] —
Stewart: Well, now we're sort of where the rubber meets the road, here, because that is kind of what I'm getting to, as much as you might protest that your main thrust is not to get us back to this idea that the Founders didn't want religion separated from the State, the documents that you pull — going off the Constitution, it doesn't mention the Creator, it doesn't mention Jesus, it doesn't mention praying in any way, so, wouldn't they be explicit in the mention of religion, if they had wanted it so? Because they were not coy people, for the most part.
Barton: No, they were not coy, and they were very blunt, and because they were, when you read the Federalist Papers, it said religion belongs to the states. Now, you read the state constitutions, they're extremely graphic on religion, but there are seven references in the Constitution to religion, whether it be Article VII — and by the way, the Declaration is incorporated into the Constitution in Article VII, so that's four references to God, just in Article VII.
[editor's note: It appears that Barton was referring to Article VI, not Article VII, although neither article incorporates the Declaration of Independence.]
Stewart: References to God are very different than explicit — like, I mean, they were so explicit in their usage: if you wanted to hold this office, you had to be this age; black people counted for three-fifths — I mean, they used fractions!
Barton: Federal office, that's — but that's holding federal office, that's not —
Stewart: But they didn't even say — I mean, there is the oath of office for the President is transcribed word-for-word in the Constitution —
Barton: That's right.
Stewart: — but they don't say you have to do it on a Bible and they don't mention —
Barton: That's right.
Stewart: — they don't mention God.
Barton: But the state laws in all 13 states required every oath to be done on a Bible and mention God.
Stewart: But only three of them actually were still there. That litmus test was only there — when the Bill of Rights came into effect, only three states still had those laws, and the Founders had been trying to phase that out.
Barton: Let's take the religion side for a minute, because when you take the First Amendment, it says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Now, one of the cases we did at the U.S. Supreme Court —
Barton: — was Rabbi Leslie Gutterman [Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992)], who was asked in Providence, Rhode Island, to give a prayer at a graduation, and he wasn't allowed to. Now, tell me how "Congress shall make no law" means that a rabbi can't say the word God at a prayer. That's a pretty strange parsing of the Constitution, and that's what I argue, is "Congress shall make no law" is a restriction on Congress. It's not a restriction on the rights of people to say the word God in public.
Stewart: Well, there have been, I think, though, a lot of instances — [aside] Do we have to go, on the thing? Dammit! Can we go and then come back — [to Barton] do you mind sticking around for a little bit?
Barton: Happy to, happy to, happy to.
Stewart: Because this is the kind of conversation that I don't get, so I'm gonna come back with it. Uh, David Barton.
[end of broadcast portion of interview]
Stewart: But that, again, gets to, sort of back to the original point, which is the case of Guttesman [sic] in Rhode Island and the prayer: Why didn't the Founders okay a litmus test to hold office — of religion — if they wanted us to be a Christian-infused (or Bible-infused) nation?
Barton: Well, now, you've got something else. How do you define Christian nation?
Stewart: I would assume that you would do it as following the laws of —
Barton: No, never been the definition.
Stewart: Oh; what is the definition?
Barton: There's 300 court cases that declare America to be a Christian nation. Not once have we ever said you have to be a Christian or you can't be this religion. Every — and great definition by U.S. Supreme Court is —
Stewart: So, we are defined as a Christian nation, is what you're saying?
Barton: Three hundred times by the courts. Now, there's a reason they said that, because we've had twenty-something religions in America since the American Revolution — you know, I mean, real simple stuff.
Stewart: So, we're a Christian nation? By definition?
Barton: Take the right definition. Not the way it's used in the last 20 years.
Barton: The court definition is a nation whose institutions and cultures have been shaped by the influence of Christianity. It's hard to say that hasn't happened in America.
Stewart: Now, when you say that's in court cases, in what context?
Barton: U.S. Supreme Court — well, there's several. There was a whole series of cases that debated things about religion, there've always been people who didn't want religion in public, and the courts have said, "Nah, you can't do that." Until 1947, every time they used Thomas Jefferson's "separation of Church and State" phrase —
Barton: — it was to keep religion in public, because they said "separation of Church and State" means the government can't stop religious exercise. In 1947 [Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1], Justice Hugo Black wrote a decision for the Court that said, "No, no, no. Jefferson got it all wrong. Separation —"
Stewart: So, we are all mistaken, that prayer should be in school?
Barton: I don't know we're mistaken, but we have reversed policy since 1947. So, what we had for 150 years and what we had for 50 years are two different things.
Stewart: Well, why did we have for 150 years that on our coins and things was E Pluribus Unum and not In God We Trust? Why did we change that in the 50's with Eisenhower?
Barton: Because it was on a lot of the states. Now wait a minute, it wasn't in the 50's, we changed it before that. [In 1863] '63, Lincoln put it on the coins; we didn't have paper currency.
Stewart: On the coins, yeah, but not in the Pledge [of Allegiance].
Barton: The currency they added in  '64 and I think Eisenhower did six things in the [1950's] 50's that way.
Stewart: But your basic point is, we are a Christian nation, as defined by —
Barton: The influence.
Stewart: — that influence.
Barton: Not exclusivity at all.
Stewart: But who is defining Christianity's "influence," and who is saying that we are not influenced?
Barton: Oh, there's a lot saying we're not influenced. The cases I get involved with — we've got a case going right now —
Stewart: But who would bring a case saying that, "I would like to adjudicate that this country is influenced by Christianity"? In what context would that —
Barton: It goes the other way. They bring a case saying there's never been a religious influence in American history; therefore — in the case we've got now, out of New Hampshire — you can't have "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance because there's no history of religion in America. We say, "Wait a minute — time out — there is." So —
Stewart: But isn't the argument not that there's no history of religion in America, but that by explicitly putting religion in the Pledge it goes against the minority rights to protect against the establishment of religion?
Barton: No, no, because there's no coercion involved. Ever since the Pledge has been done —
Stewart: Wouldn't coercion, though, not necessarily be legal, but sometimes, perhaps, peer — like, if you're — if everybody prays and you don't want to pray, 30 people praying, one person not — can that be considered coercion?
Barton: Hey, I'm a Republican, I'm in New York City, I've got coercion all around me. I have to live with that sometimes. There's coercion; you have to put on your big-boy pants and do some things. As long as you're not being forced to do it —
Stewart: But you are being forced to be in school.
Barton: Look at all the pressure that goes through school, whether it's drugs or anything else, and we don't rule that unconstitutional.
Stewart: Well, no, because there's not the teacher saying, "You have to smoke pot."
Barton: But you do have — see, that's why we've always had the right of conscience, always protected. That's why Jehovah's Witnesses, from the very beginning in '47 —
Stewart: But there's the right of conscience and the reality of conscience, and don't these laws exist to protect the right and the reality of conscience?
Barton: Now, laws exist to protect actual offenses; you have to be able to show that you've suffered an actual injury to even be able to get into court. You have to show an injury in fact, not a perceived injury, and the fact that it might make me feel uncomfortable is not enough to keep everyone else from practicing their faith, just because I'm uncomfortable with the way they do it.
Stewart: Actually, I think that might be. I think, actually, that is, isn't it?
Barton: It has become that. It's become that. But it should never — I mean, here's a great example —
Stewart: Well, why shouldn't it be?
Barton: Minnesota. We got a state employee in Minnesota. He cannot park his car in the state employee parking lot because it has a religious bumper sticker on his car, so, why not?
Stewart: We can all pick anecdotal cases of ridiculousness, of overreaching in terms of tolerance and all that, but getting back to the larger issue, which is, you seem to argue for a Biblical or religious founding of our nation that the evidence doesn't seem — I guess it doesn't seem to be convincing to me, because the Founders could've put it explicitly in the Constitution and didn't. And I'm still waiting for the idea of, so why do we have to dig around to these other documents when we have the Constitution?
Barton: It's fairly easy, because, when you have — like we do — 100,000 documents, it's so permeated. It's like, we don't put a law that says gravity pulls things from top to center. Everybody knows that. It was the atmosphere.
Stewart: No, we do — but it is — if we were writing a book about being on earth, we would put that law first.
Barton: But that's not what these guys did. Yeah, we would.
Stewart: Right. Because it's one of the basic —
Barton: But that's not what they did.
Stewart: — you know, laws of thermodynamics. I mean, that is what you would put.
Barton: See, you gotta look at —
Stewart: Why would you not list the basic laws of Christian nation when you're making a document that is the thing that all of our political leaders have to uphold and protect??
Barton: Couple things. You've taken the definition of Christian nation now and taken it back 200 years; that was not the definition they used.
Stewart: Actually, I think the reverse: I think you're taking the definition of Christian nation now and putting it back on what they are. They were certainly — I'm not saying they're not religious people —
Stewart: — but that argument was had. The anti-Federalists — Patrick Henry, Founding Father, would've preferred a theocracy, or some type of more Calvinist approach. He had the argument. The Federalists, who were working off of maybe a more Enlightenment type of model, won. And it's not that they didn't have the argument; they did have the argument. Patrick Henry would've liked to have had a litmus test for public office of religion, he would've liked to have —
Barton: He didn't win. He didn't win.
Barton: Now, take the Federalist Papers. Three Federalist Papers —
Stewart: Take the Constitution!
Barton: You brought the Federalist Papers —
Stewart: No, I brought the Federalist — I bring it up only in the sense of, this argument was had, and the idea of —
Barton: Where in the Constitution is there anything hostile to religion? And that's the argument we're having. See, why does the Constitution create a hostility toward — Now, here's what I told —
Stewart: Are you really — and this is, I think, where I get to something that's more difficult to take — you believe there's a hostility —
Barton: Oh, Jon.
Stewart: — to Christianity.
Barton: You would not believe the number of arrest cases in the last year of Christians — a 67-year-old man in Georgia who gave out a gospel tract to somebody on a park bench, two days in jail.
Stewart: I think there is real persecution of Christians.
Barton: There is some.
Stewart: I think it happens in China, but I don't think it happens in this country!
Barton: No, but how do you keep it from becoming like anywhere else? You stop it right when it happens.
Stewart: Because we've had 240 years of evidence that it won't. One of the reasons that we separated it from the public square is to avoid these types of situations.
Barton: But here's a case we're working on right now: a pastor in Kansas just got arrested —
Stewart: You may be right, about this case, but I am talking about the larger picture of, there's an idea that the Founders wanted this to be a specifically divinity, American exceptionalism —
Barton: That's not the argument.
Stewart: What is the argument, then?
Barton: The argument is they did not require a secular society. Now, let me throw out another piece —
Stewart: We're not a secular society! There's churches all over this country!
Barton: But are there people trying to make us a secular society in court? Yes. These are the cases I deal with all the time in court.
Stewart: In schools, they don't want prayer and the Ten Commandments, but the idea that Christianity, as a religion in this country, is threatened, really is ludicrous! As a Jew, I can tell you, Christians have it made. You get — let me just tell you this — you get presents for Christ's birth; when he dies, you get a basket of candy — you can't lose!
Stewart: All I'm saying is, Let's be realistic about what this country really is. We are a Christian-dominated society —
Stewart: — but through the Founders' wisdom, we have kept that from becoming a state religion —
Stewart: — so that their vision of "all people are created equal" —
Stewart: — could flourish in a —
Barton: That's a Biblical vision, by the way: that all men are created equal. You don't get that from a secular world.
Stewart: I think that that's not — you saying that —
Barton: France didn't believe that.
Stewart: Well, we thought that France did for a little while, but you know, the idea that secular is purely bad and religion is purely good, I think, is why we need to keep that line from it getting in there. You know, I'm all for, if people use their religion to find morality, that's wonderful.
Barton: You bet.
Stewart: But it's not the only path.
Barton: You bet. Thomas Paine proves that.
Stewart: There's a lot of people who quit drinkin', they were alcoholics, 'cause they woke up and found Jesus. There's just as many people who woke up and said, "I don't like sleeping in my own vomit."
Barton: And it works.
Stewart: So — exactly!
Barton: But let me give you an example —
Stewart: It wouldn't work if we brought a majority rule into the public square of religious —
Barton: That's why it's an inalienable right, because majority has nothing to do. An inalienable right, by the way, the guys who wrote the Constitution said that's a God-given right. That's the right of conscience. You have the right to worship according to the dictates of conscience, regardless of what the majority says.
Stewart: That's right.
Barton: There's no problem with that. So, now here's my question: the case we just dealt with, just a week ago, we're coming up with a National Day of Prayer. We've been doing this for 200 years. We have a court case [FFRF v. Obama, 08-cv-588-bbc] that says nobody is allowed to celebrate on the National Day of Prayer. Freedom From Religion Foundation, we fought this thing all the way through, we won it. Why would people want to tell me I can't pray if I want to? This is not a government activity, this is a private activity.
Stewart: And they lost.
Barton: They did. But we had to fight the case.
Stewart: You can't prevent — you know, there was a woman at McDonald's, she spilled coffee on her lap and sued them because it was hot! [Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants, 1994]
Barton: She got $3 million, though. She won!
Stewart: Right. I'm just sayin', though — believe me, we are not arguing that America doesn't have some asinine people in it.
Barton: And that's why we go to court to defend this stuff.
Stewart: But on the flip side of that — I can understand — you know, you have gone and testified that Jesus is against the inheritance tax —
Barton: No, I haven't. Nope.
Stewart: You haven't said Jesus is against the —
Barton: I've never testified that.
Stewart: Not testified, not testified, you have spoken in front of groups.
Barton: In front of pastors, and what I did was, I quoted the 1765 sermon given by a pastor that John Adams praised, where he talked about the taxes that were good and bad.
Stewart: Well, can you understand people being uncomfortable? You are —
Barton: If they take a line out of it, you bet.
Stewart: For a Creationist — and I'm assuming —
Barton: Me? Sure.
Barton: I believe in the declaration. I believe in the declaration.
Stewart: So, for a Creationist, it's interesting, because you are almost the missing link, if you will, between theology and, sort of, activism politically, and I think that's where people's discomfort comes in, is when political leaders — your views are your views —
Stewart: — and, you know, I say, "God bless you!" to people when they sneeze; that doesn't mean I'm a Creationist. It just means —
Stewart: — it's a nice thing to say. You seem to be taking your religious views, channeling them through a sort of a faux-scientific or historical method, for use in political and curriculum activities, and that's where I think it creates some trouble.
Barton: No, because, going back to curriculum: one of the things I teach teachers, and I show state legislatures testifying, is if you're going to teach history, there's 17 to 18 different strands you have to teach of history. You have to cover civil rights history, military history, community history; you have to cover economic history; you have to cover religious history; you have to cover all of it. Now, what happens is, people look at me and they pick out one of those 17 strands and say, "Oh, look what he says!" I've got all these other strands, too; I've got the economic history, I've got the civil rights history, you know, I go through that. So, what happens is —
Stewart: But you can understand, if a person — let me just take it on the flip side — if somebody says, like, you know, "Listen, I give a lot of speeches where I'm just talking about that, and I happen to give speeches to one group where I say things that are really out there...." It's like, "Six days a week, I go to work and I do a thing, and on Sundays, I wear a diaper and I walk around the city."
Stewart: "And everybody seems to focus on the "diaper around the city" part, and yet forgets that, during the week, I'm a salesperson with Prudential." Like, it's, you know, I don't think that's a fair thing to say that, you know, they forget about these other 16, because that 17th is pretty explosive to a good portion of the country.
Barton: But, you know, you've brought the minimum wage and the capital gains tax; all right, listen to the full one-hour speech, listen to the 1765 sermon that I'm talking about from Charles Chauncy that John Adams quoted, and then put it in that context. So, is Barton talking about a historical document here, an approach that was used 200 years ago, informing taxes —
Barton: — or is he talking something — and see, that's what never comes out.
Stewart: Okay, maybe here's the problem here. You're a theologian and historian, and people have confused what hat you're wearing when —
Barton: I would say that's fair. I'd say that's fair.
Stewart: So that's — the issue has been that you are promoting theology with these things, but would you also say it's fair that through your theology promotion, that is what you're known for in these circles politically?
Barton: Only when they pull out that — no, not politically. Not in political circles. No.
Stewart: Well, let me ask you this: who's asking you, in Congress, to come help them? Michele Bachmann (R–MN)?
Barton: No, both Democrats and Republicans.
Stewart: What Democrats?
Barton: I don't give names unless they give names. You know about Michele because she's used my name. There's dozens of Congressmen that we help, and I don't use their names unless they bring 'em out. Now, there's Democrats and Republicans, both, just like there's Democrat and Republican governors, both, just like in campaigns, I endorse both Democrats and Republicans on the basis of their ideas.
Stewart: But the Democrats won't mention your name?
Barton: By and large, they won't.
Stewart: You're their pot dealer, and they don't wanna — ?
Barton: That's right. That's right. And a lot of the Republicans won't mention my name, either.
Stewart: How does that make you feel?? You've got these guys, you're helpin' 'em, and they win a campaign, and you're like the guy in the corner, like: "I helped you, you son of a ...!"
Barton: Well, it's like that textbook, you know. I told 'em, keep my name out as editor. As long as the textbook sells and kids get good information, I don't care if my name is there. It doesn't matter to me. And if I get information that'll help a Congressman, I don't care if they use my name. That's not my deal. I just want 'em to have good information. So if I can — and I tell you what is kinda fun is, you find out I got a call from three Congressmen off the floor, and they said, "Hey, anything in history about bailout and stimulus plans in Congress?" It turns out, in 1792 there was a big debate in Congress over bailout and stimulus plans. So we said, "Yeah, here's what James Madison said." We get calls all the time on all sorts of issues, and if I can get them information that will help them, that's what I want to do. And I don't ask them to use my name, and I don't care if they do.
Stewart: Do you ever give them information that runs counter to this country being a more Christian-founded country than — you know, in terms of — because, in some respects, it reminds me of [pause] the Iraq War, God help me, for the idea that we had an idea about going in and then we turned around and found good reasons to do it. And that's, you know, the troubling aspect of it is, it feels like a —
Barton: But it's not a "pick and choose." And see, that's one of the things — what we do, is we collect all the quotes that have to do with a topic.
Stewart: It has to be a "pick and choose," because history is contradictory. I mean, you can't say, "Jefferson was..." because people contradicted themselves.
Barton: Let me give you an example: I've got —
Stewart: And the Bible contradicts itself.
Barton: Well, I've got a book that I've done called Original Intents; 1700 footnotes in it, they go back to founding documents.
Barton: On the other side, there's a book done by two professors called The Godless Constitution, PhD's at Cornell. The footnote page, they said, "We have dispensed with the usual scholarly apparatus of footnotes." Not a footnote in the book. I got 1700, they got one — I mean, they got zero. So there's —
Stewart: But you're not arguing the idea that this country was founded on non-Christian principle, like that is a pretty accepted historical narrative. It's not just like a couple of dudes from Cornell who said, "No, no, no."
Barton: The notion that we were founded without religion, doesn't exist. All the 13 charters —
Stewart: That's a false choice — I don't think anybody's suggesting religion has not been an important part of this country.
Stewart: But nobody's suggesting that.
Barton: Oh, yeah, they are. Yeah, they are.
Stewart: Well, the people — let me put it this way: the majority viewpoint —
Barton: The people I deal with, the professors I deal with, absolutely they do.
Stewart: But then you have a very skewed perspective on —
Barton: Because that's what I deal with.
Barton: Now, see, another one, if you've ever seen Alexis de Tocqueville Democracy in America, good book, about that thick [about 4" or 10cm]. The book they use in colleges now is less than a half inch [12mm] thick. It says, "edited for the modern reader." They took out all of his references to religion, all of his references to family, and that's "the modern reader"? Now, I've got problems with that. This is the original; why not read the original? Or at least keep the tone of their — but that's what I deal with in academic universities all the time.
Stewart: Do you think people would be more comfortable with you if they felt like you were consistently looking to extend historical context and — because there are a lot of critics out there who say you cherry-pick your religious facts, take them out of context — your historical facts — to use them to bolster your argument.
Barton: They've never proven that. They've claimed that. Show me some documentation where it's taken out of context. They've never provided that. They complain about it.
Stewart: Didn't they say the John Adams quote, where you talk about, he says, "We were inspired by Divinity."
Barton: No, I don't recall him saying that. Have you got the quote?
Stewart: Yeah, let me see if I can find it. [consults notes] Okay, here it is. Here is what you wrote in your book about what Adams said, endorsing the Church being involved in the State: "The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this earth. Not a baptism, not a marriage, not a sacrament can be administered, but by the Holy Ghost, who is transmitted from age to age by laying the hands of the bishop upon the heads of candidates for the ministry. [...] There is no authority, civil or religious; there can be no legitimate government, but what is administered by the Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it; all without it is rebellion and perdition, or in more orthodox words, damnation." That's the quote that you used in your book.
Barton: Now, I have the original John Adams letter with me off the set. I brought the original. See, I posted that online; how can I misquote it when I put the whole thing up there. That's the only John Adams letter in the world that he wrote on that day to that person, and that's what's in it. I posted that where everybody can see it, and that's what we do with our documents.
Stewart: But you have then the sentence after the one, which is: "Although this is all artifice and cunning —"
Barton: Oh, the entire letter is posted. The entire letter is posted.
Stewart: But you can see that the next sentence shows that he's being sarcastic in that passage.
Barton: Not in — no, not at all. You read the entire letter, Jon — now, see, they've given you their critique of it.
Stewart: But how could he say the Holy Ghost — I mean, this man was a Unitarian; why would he claim the Holy Ghost sincerely?
Barton: You know what a Unitarian was then?
Stewart: Yeah, someone who didn't believe in the Trinity.
Barton: No, no. Not until 1839, long after his death. It did not become —
Stewart: So John Adams believed in the Holy Ghost?
Barton: He believed in the Trinity, and that's where Unitarian —
Stewart: Did he believe we were a Christian nation? Because he signed the Treaty of Tripoli, and said we weren't, explicitly.
Barton: No, time out. Treaty of Tripoli, Article 11 is what you're talking about, it's 82 words long; everybody always puts a period after 17 words. There's not a period there. It says "The government of the United States is in no sense founded on the Christian religion," right? That's what it says, where everybody puts a period. Now, remember: it's a negotiation he's made with a Moslem nation. He says, "The government of the United States is in no sense founded on the Christian religion as having an inherent hostility towards Muslims. Hey, we're not the Europeans you guys fought in the Crusades. We don't hate you guys because you're Muslims." He didn't say we're not a Christian nation; we're not a European Christian nation that hates you and fights you because of your religion. And by the way, the State Department says there is no Article 11 in the Treaty of Tripoli. The original, it's not there. Everybody loves to quote the Treaty of Tripoli.
Stewart: So it's Photoshopped?
Barton: Yeah, exactly. Exactly, exactly.
Stewart: But you use this quote to say that he is believing in the Holy —
Barton: No, on John Adams, I put the whole letter up there. Now, see, they've taken those parts out; I put the letter up there.
Stewart: So, you are the one using things in context?
Barton: Well, I'm tryin' to. That's why I put the whole letter up there.
Stewart: But didn't you have to print — wasn't there a whole thing where you had to print a bunch of retractions based on —
Barton: No, I never had to retract a single thing. Every quote I've used has always had a footnote to it. [audience laughs] Let me give you an example of what you're talking about.
Stewart: You're — it's — honestly, I feel like it's one of those things where it's like I received a dossier on someone and I'm looking at it and I have all these facts and all these things and I go, "You did this," and you go, "No, I never did that," and — it's like in Bewitched: remember first Darrin, second Darrin?
Barton: Yeah, yeah.
Stewart: I feel like I got all the research on the first Darrin and you're like, "I'm sorry, I'm the second Darrin."
Stewart: You know, but I'm always a little dubious of this idea, like, "Dude, you got me all wrong!" because, you know, the truth is, when you speak to pastors, you toe a certain line, and it's very difficult for me to imagine that when you come back to this other historical aspect, all that is forgotten.
Barton: But look at the textbooks I write. Read the textbooks. You won't find that through there. That's why they sell so well in public schools.
Stewart: Well, the curriculum fight in Texas didn't feel pleasant to me, didn't feel fair.
Barton: It didn't.
Stewart: It felt infused with a more fundamentalist view of the Bible and Christianity.
Barton: Here's what I objected to about that, because that fight in Texas was done by press releases. They issued a press release, and when they did — and, you know, as I mentioned, New York Times and MSNBC all picked up the press release — never even called me to ask about the other side.
Stewart: Well, that I don't — I mean, obviously when people are going out there, they should talk to you. I mean, that in and of itself.
Barton: See, the thing to remember is, every bit of that was online, and is still online to this day. Our entire discussions, every change we made, several hundred amendments, is online. Now, if it's so bad, how come nobody's pulled out exact quotes online? They keep talking about the "tone" we tried to inject; no!
Barton: Look at the writings.
Stewart: So, you never claimed Congress printed an official Bible for U.S. schools in 1782?
Barton: Sure they did. And it's in the Bible itself. I have the actual Bible from 1782. It's got a Congressional endorsement in the front of the Bible; it is printed by Act of Congress. 1782, it's one of the rarest books in the world, they printed 10,000 [in] 1782, there's 28 left in the world, I've got one of 'em.
Stewart: Here's the story I heard; you tell me, then, if I'm completely wrong again, which apparently I have been this entire time. Congress didn't print the Bible; a private printer named [Robert] Aitken printed it.
Barton: He could not print it without Congressional permission.
Stewart: Well, no, apparently he printed it, and then he had a bunch, so then he petitioned Congress to certify —
Stewart: — that it was accurate in 1781. Because you're telling me the facts I'm saying to you are completely wrong.
Barton: Those are wrong, because when you —
Stewart: "For the use of the schools" were not Congress's words, they were the words of Aitken, who was trying to sell his Bibles to Congress.
Stewart: And you say it's in the records of Congress, but anybody who speaks to Congress or petitions them has their words in the Congressional Record. So Congress agreed to certify it as accurate, but denied his request that it be published under the authority of Congress, and they never said anything about use in schools.
Barton: It has, in the front of the Bible, a Congressional endorsement: "This Bible recommended to inhabitants of the United States by the Congress Assembled." It has a Congressional endorsement. They certify that they went through the Bible —
Stewart: They certified that it was an accurate copy, but denied that it be published under the authority of Congress.
Barton: No, the whole thing went through committees in Congress. There were committees appointed. [Congressional chaplain George] Duffield and [John] Witherspoon were on the committees, James Duane; there were committees that oversaw the whole thing all the way through. Now, Aitken is the one who printed it; no question that Aitken is the printer, and no question that he asked Congress to do it —
Stewart: Did he print it prior to asking, or — ?
Stewart: So, he asked them and then he printed it?
Barton: He asked them, got their permission, then, with their oversight, going through the Bible —
Stewart: Their permission, and then they said they would verify that it's an accurate Bible?
Barton: That it's an accurate Bible, and they recommended it. And they advocated its use. As a matter of fact, they wanted Washington to give one to every soldier, but we'd won the Revolution by then, so by the time it came out, we're done with the Revolution. Washington has a letter of how I want to give this to every soldier, but the Revolution's over and they've all gone home.
Stewart: Right. But you can understand how these stories are all, you know, you're finding anecdote here, anecdote here, and ultimately what it all seems to come down to for me is, we have a founding document, the Constitution. It doesn't mention it, and —
Barton: But it doesn't exclude it, and that's where they argue, if it's not mentioned then it's excluded. And that's what I have to deal with all the time is, it doesn't have to be explicitly mentioned to not be excluded. In other words, it's an inclusive document, rather than an exclusive document. And they argue the other way. Does that make sense?
Stewart: Well, no. I would say that a document that says there will be no establishment of religion is an exclusive document. I mean, I do think that's exclusionary, by saying you can't establish —
Barton: That's wrong, and who can't do it? Congress.
Stewart: Did you disagree with me?
Barton: I did, several times, man. Several times. That scares ya; I know that scares ya.
Stewart: It does scare me, a little bit. So, wait —
Barton: But look at the prohibition: it's on Congress can't do it. So, to say that I can't participate in a National Day of Prayer —
Stewart: The states can't do it, either.
Barton: Yeah, and see: that was a strange twist of a court decision, because the Constitution doesn't say that.
Stewart: But they were all pretty much — the state constitutions had taken out those litmus tests by the 1800's.
Barton: No, no. Maryland had theirs until 1962. U.S. Supreme Court —
Stewart: Oh, is that true? One of them had it, I guess.
Barton: Well, several did.
Stewart: But they were down to three by the time the Bill of Rights came in.
Barton: The one in Massachusetts is still there today — to this day. The one in New Hampshire is still there, to this day.
Stewart: So, you have to, to hold office in New Hampshire —
Barton: It's not applied; it's still in their constitution.
Stewart: If it were applied, would it be legal?
Barton: The court wouldn't think so, but from a constitutional standpoint it should be, because the Constitution limits the federal government, not the states, and that's the Ninth and Tenth Amendment. So, from the standpoint of the Founding Fathers, religion was to be dealt with in the states; that's why Thomas Jefferson never gave a federal prayer proclamation. He did when he was governor of Virginia, but he didn't as President, because that was a state's issue. So, now for —
Stewart: Were the Founding Fathers — you know, the difficulty for me is, the Founding Fathers, they, I think, meant for slavery to be abolished at some point —
Stewart: — but they left it up to the states —
Barton: That's right.
Stewart: — to get — it struck me as what they called it, a compromise. A bargain, a terrible bargain.
Barton: Three states said, "We will not be part of this group if you don't do it."
Stewart: That's right.
Barton: So, three held ten blackmail, and, yeah. Exactly.
Stewart: Right. This strikes me as a similar idea, that the Federalists, who had wanted to remove it — because, again, they could have expressly included it, and by not, it strikes me as —
Barton: But they didn't need to. It was a jurisdictional issue. See, that's the Enumerated Powers doctrine, where if it's not there, you don't have — Congress doesn't have permission to do it.
Barton: So, the Bill of Rights was only to limit the federal Congress, not to limit the states. It was never intended to limit the states, and it did not limit the states until well into the 20th century.
Stewart: But why would Franklin say when it was down to three, he would say this is a step in the right direction, the liberalizing of these laws? Like, you know, there's a difference between the Founding Fathers and Cotton Mather and Patrick Henry, and —
Stewart: — I think confusing what the Puritans wanted this country to be with what this country is, I think is where people have that delineation and that problem.
Barton: There's a geographic difference. I mean, what they did in the southern states is not religiously what they did in the New England states, and what they did in the middle colonies is different from both of 'em.
Barton: And you had all 13 of those groups coming together, meeting.
Stewart: Right. And that was the Articles of Confederation, and it didn't work, and then they got together again and formed the Constitution.
Barton: Even the Constitution, you had those geographic — slavery is a great example. You know, the northern guys, they had blacks holding office at the time, blacks voted in New England; southern guys, they're never gonna talk about blacks doing anything. The middle colonies, they wanted blacks to do that, but they've still got a lot of racism, so you've got three separate approaches to how to handle race in the Constitution.
Stewart: Sounds like Goldilocks, really, it's that same kind of —
Barton: It is, really.
Stewart: — too hot, too cold, just right. Yeah, it's nice.
Barton: Exactly. And the same with religion.
Barton: And that's why the Constitution — both on slavery and on religion — kind of took a hands-off approach.
Stewart: Do you feel that we don't have enough religion in this country? You feel like we need more?
Barton: No. I feel that what is not justified is hostility toward religion — and again, these are the cases I deal with. I mean, on the House — on the Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing on this, we had an 86-page document, single-spaced, of all the instances, court cases —
Stewart: Do you feel like the majority in a locality should be able to determine —
Barton: Yes. And here in New York City, there's schools that are 100% Hasidic Jewish, and I think they ought to be able to have Hasidic Jewish practices there, because all 100% of the kids are.
Stewart: So, you would allow, in, like — let's say Dearborn, Michigan, was majority Muslim —
Barton: And it is.
Stewart: — you'd be all right with Shari'a law, and the whole business?
Stewart: Well, that's consistent.
Barton: But for somebody from the outside to come in and say, "I don't like that; you can't do it," that's what I got trouble with.
Stewart: Really? See, that strikes me as the essence of America, is that somebody from the outside of the federal government saying you can't do that.
Barton: You can't do it.
Stewart: Because, I mean, it creates a barrier to people and freedom. It creates a barrier for people going into those areas and, you know, it'd be like saying, "And you can't restrict based just on race." By establishing a religious doctrine in an area, that is setting up an exclusionary boundary and a coercion to new people coming into that area — and I think, actually, the opposite of probably what you think —
Barton: If it's coercion. If it's coercion.
Stewart: Have you ever been to a Hasidic community??
Barton: Mmm-hmm. I have.
Stewart: Try walkin' in there and goin', "Hey, everybody, it's Easter!!" Like, you're not gonna — This is — can I tell you something? — and this is what I always say to Huckabee — it's fascinating.
Stewart: Really is fascinating.
Stewart: All right.
Barton: Man, debate's good.
Stewart: Do you feel like you're talking to, you know, like, a secular humanist —
Stewart: — that is responsible for grave danger to this country?
Barton: No, no.
Stewart: A cancer on our society?
Barton: You know, as long as there's open conversation, that's good stuff.
Stewart: That's all I care about.
Barton: That's good stuff.
Stewart: All I care about is open conversation that leads to nothing.
Barton: Uh, yeah. We got that.
Stewart: Well, I thank you very much for being here, I really do. I appreciate it.
Barton: My pleasure.
Stewart: David Barton, everybody!
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.That language was accepted by unanimous vote of the Senate and by President John Adams in 1797. The issue of whether that paragraph appears in the original Arabic text of the treaty as signed in Tripoli and Algiers is immaterial to this discussion; the clear fact of the matter is that the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to declare that the U.S. is not founded on Christianity.
Barton also raises the claim that John Adams believed in the Holy Trinity, which the historical record is clear that he did not. John Adams was a Unitarian, which does mean that he did not believe in the Trinity. The earliest use of the word "Unitarian" in print in the English language was in 1672, at which point it already clearly referred to disbelief in the Trinity. There was no magic snap of the fingers in 1839 (or any other year) in which Unitarians, having previously believed in the Trinity, suddenly ceased.
But the text Barton references, an original letter from John Adams to Benjamin Rush dated 1809-12-21, supports Jon Stewart's interpretation and refutes Barton's own claim:
But my friend there is something very serious in this business. The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this Earth. Not a baptism, not a marriage, not a Sacrament can be administered but by the Holy Ghost, who is transmitted from age to age by laying the hands of the Bishop on the heads of candidates for the Ministry. In the same manner as the Holy Ghost is transmitted from monarch to monarch by the holy oil in the vial at Rheims which was brought down from Heaven by a dove and by that other phial [vial] which I have seen in the Tower of London. There is no authority civil or religious: There can be no legitimate government but what is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it. All without it is rebellion and perdition, or in more orthodox words damnation. Although this is all artifice and cunning in the secret original in the heart, yet they all believe it so sincerely that they would lie down their lives under the ax or the fiery fagots [wood used for burning individuals at the stake] for it. Alas, the poor weak ignorant dupe human nature. There is so much king craft, priest craft, gentlemen’s craft, people’s craft, doctors craft, lawyers craft, merchants craft, tradesmen’s craft, laborers craft and Devil’s craft in the world that it seems a desperate and impractical project to undeceive it.The portion highlighted in red was elided from the quote Jon Stewart read from Barton's book, but it clearly casts doubt on Barton's interpretation. Are we to believe that John Adams believed that the authority of the French and English monarchies legitimately flowed from the anointing oil as a means of passing forward the infusion of the Holy Ghost? And are we then to ignore the last third of the paragraph, which overflows with Adams' sarcasm?
Barton claims that Article VII of the Constitution refers to God, and incorporates the Declaration of Independence, bringing in three additional references to God. First of all, Article VII says that the Constitution shall enter into force when ratified by nine of the thirteen states; it makes no reference at all to God or religion or the Declaration of Independence. Presumably Barton meant to say Article VI, which says:
All debts contracted and engagements entered into, before the adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.
This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.The only reference to God or religion is in a negative sense: "no religious test shall ever be required...." As to incorporating the Declaration of Independence, that would have to be from the first sentence, but, seeing as the Declaration itself neither contracted any debts nor entered into any engagements, it's more than a stretch to say it's incorporated.
Barton also ridiculously mischaracterizes his opponents in the court cases he cites. In the case of Lee v. Weisman, where the rabbi gave a prayer at a public-school graduation ceremony, Barton gets his facts badly wrong. First of all, Rabbi Gutterman did give the prayer; after the fact, the Supreme Court ruled against the principal of the school, but based in part on the fact that the principal gave the rabbi a pamphlet with guidelines for what should and should not be included in the prayer. In other words, it was precisely the fact that an agent of the government (the principal) was telling someone how he could pray that was the problem. Furthermore, the fact that the prayer was offered at an official school function — even though it was an "optional" function — introduced an element of religious coercion to the students.
The case of Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Obama, Barton gets even more badly wrong, which is particularly damning, since it is a current case in which he is directly involved. Barton says that the FFRF wants to prevent anyone from having a private celebration of a National Day of Prayer, but that is an outright lie. What the FFRF sought, and what the trial judge granted, was an injunction against the Congress and the President from issuing an official governmental proclamation for the NDOP. Any private group is perfectly free to declare a National Day of Prayer, but neither the Congress nor the President should give it the government stamp of approval, because that is precisely an establishment of religion. It is precisely the fact that it is a government activity — despite Barton's absurd claim to the contrary — that is the problem. Also, Barton and friends haven't won yet; the case is still on appeal.
Going back into history, Barton also completely mischaracterizes the case of Everson v. Board of Education, the 1947 decision written by Justice Hugo Black. Justice Black didn't say that Jefferson got it all wrong, he based his opinion precisely on Jefferson's view of the First Amendment. Quoting Justice Black:
The 'establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect "a wall of separation between Church and State."Likewise, the New Hampshire case regarding the Pledge of Allegiance (FFRF v. Hanover) does not claim anything remotely similar to "there's never been a religious influence in American history," as Barton claims. It simply seeks to end one particular instance of the preference by the government of religion over non-belief. The case doesn't claim that there has been no religious influence; rather, it seeks to at long last take the government's thumb off the scales.
Barton also gets wrong the history of state constitutional provisions about religion. The clause in the Maryland constitution requiring profession of belief in God is still there, even today, despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court in 1961 unanimously ruled its application to be illegal [Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488]. The state of Maryland added a fig leaf in the form of the annotation "Nothing in this article [Article 36] shall constitute an establishment of religion." The Texas state constitution contains a similar inoperative provision, as do several other states, but the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land.
As for the case of the Minnesota state worker with a religious bumper sticker, no one seems to have any idea what Barton was talking about at all; no such case comes up on Google under several different combinations of keywords.
The story of the Aitken Bible brings forth yet more distortions from Mr. Barton. First, a bit of context: the Constitution was written in 1787 and went into effect in 1789, so we are talking here about the Continental Congress, operating under the Articles of Confederation, with the Bill of Rights not yet written. However, Barton's claim that Robert Aitken "could not print it without Congressional permission" is absurd on its face. The only thing that Congress "authorized" Aitken to publish was its conclusion that his Bible was accurate. The exact text of the Congressional resolution is:
Resolved, That the United States in Congress assembled highly approve the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitkin [sic], as subservient to the interest of religion as well as an instance of the progress of arts in this country, and being satisfied from the above report, of his care and accuracy in the execution of the work, they recommend this edition of the bible to the inhabitants of the United States, and hereby authorise him to publish this recommendation in the manner he shall think proper.They did not authorize him to publish the Bible; they authorized him to publish their recommendation of it. As the Library of Congress says on their website, "