David Barton is not a historian. But his version of American history is wildly popular with churches, schools and the GOP. With help from historians Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter, co-authors of Getting Jefferson Right, we fact-checked a few of Barton's more common claims. Watch video examples of Barton's messages and see how they compare with the Constitution, historical text and the Bible.
Barton's Takes On Historical Record
Constitution Taken 'Verbatim' From Scripture
Barton says here that it's "absolutely no surprise that so many clauses in the Constitution are literal, direct quotations out of the Bible" and that "A Republican form of government' ... came directly out of Exodus 18:21, Deuteronomy 1:16, Deuteronomy 16:18." But we could not find a single instance of the Constitution directly quoting the Bible. In Exodus 18:21, Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, tells Moses to find judges to help him hear disputes brought by people. Elsewhere, Moses appoints judges, not lawmakers.
Most Founding Fathers Had Bible Or Seminary Degrees
"[Of the] 56 who signed the Declaration, 29 actually held seminary degrees ... more than half of them held Bible school degrees," Barton says. To clarify, in the early days of the nation, a "seminary" degree meant a college or university degree, or had some formal schooling. It did not mean a Bible school degree. Only one of the signers, John Witherspoon, had a divinity degree and was trained as a minister.
Congress Funded Religion And Printed The Bible
Showing a Bible in this video, Barton says, "This is a copy of what the first Bible printed in English in America looked like. This Bible was printed by the U.S. Congress in 1782." Historians say this Bible was actually published by Philadelphia printer Robert Aitken. Congress neither published it nor paid for it to be published. At Aitken's request, Congress did agree to have its chaplains check the Bible for accuracy. Congress did not recommend that the Bible be used in public schools; that quote was written by Aitken in a letter to Congress.
Law Meant To Eliminate Homosexuals
Barton's take: "The Bible says the law is made to regulate sexual immorality, whether it's homosexual or whatever. ... The Supreme Court said, 'Oh, all those laws have to go away because we disagree with them.' I don't care what the Supreme Court says. God has made it clear what is right or wrong in his scripture." This video is an example of Barton's view that the Supreme Court has thwarted the biblical ideals on which, he says, the Constitution is based. He also believes the court misinterpreted Jefferson's "wall of separation" between church and state in 1947, and that the founders intended the wall to protect religion from government, not curb religious expression. He has stated that since the Supreme Court removed prayer and Bibles from public schools in 1962 and 1963, America has been in steep decline: SAT scores have dropped, and teen pregnancy, the divorce rate and violent crime has skyrocketed. But he fails to make the distinction between correlation and causation.
America 'Was And Is' A Christian Nation
"If you look at signers of the Declaration of Independence, they said America is a Christian nation. So were we? Yes. ... Are we? ... America's 82 to 88 percent professing Christian. I would say that qualifies for a Christian nation," Barton says. But by "Christian nation," he does not mean a theocracy or state in which Christians have more rights. Rather, he means a nation built on Christian ideas. However, he implies in this and many other videos that the Constitution incorporates the Declaration of Independence, and thus, the Constitution is based on biblical principles. On the contrary, say historians, the founders wrote an explicitly secular document. The only mention of religion in the Constitution as written in 1787 is exclusionary: Article VI says there shall be "no religious test" for office. (The First Amendment does mention religion.)