By: Blair Scott, Alabama State Director, American Atheists, Inc.
We’ve all seen the letters in the newspapers with quotes from the Founding Fathers and other respected historical American leaders that can sometimes make the most ardent Atheist think twice about trying to refute the historical reconstructionist’s ideology of “Christian Nation” that comes along with, “This nation was founded on Christianity by Christian men!”
What a lot of Atheists don’t know is that many of these “great” quotes (great in the sense that they would be devastating to our side if they were true) are fabricated and disseminated just like every other urban legend email you get about Big Foot, the godly banana, and the missing girl with leukemia.
David Barton is a Christian fundamentalist from the WallBuilders group. He wrote a book full of quotes from the Founding Fathers that really took the Atheist’s take on the foundation of this country to task. Many people jumped to do the research to find out the validity of these quotes. Firms devoted to Madison and Jefferson became involved, universities got involved and ultimately the Library of Congress was the final resting place for these quotes.
David Barton was cornered and he admitted to fabricating the quotes, okay he actually called them “spurious,” but we all know that means he made them up. He was ordered to create a pamphlet that listed all his bogus quotes. Unfortunate that pamphlet has had almost zero impact on those use the quotes daily in newspapers around the United States.
Here are some of the BOGUS quotes that you should immediately refute if you see them used in a letter to the editor, in an online forum, or anywhere else for that matter.
1) “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ!” – Patrick Henry
2) “The only assurance of our nation’s safety is to lay our foundation in morality and religion.” – Abraham Lincoln
3) “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.” – George Washington
4) “Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise. In this sense and to this extent, our civilizations and our institutions are emphatically Christian.” – Holy Trinity v. U. S. (Supreme Court case)
5) “The principles of all genuine liberty, and of wise laws and administrations are to be drown from the Bible and sustained by its authority. The man therefore who weakens or destroys the divine authority of that book may be assessory [sic] to all the public disorders which society is doomed to suffer.” – Noah Webster
6) “A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or eternal invader.” – Samuel Adams
7) “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves … according to the Ten Commandments of God.” – James Madison
8) “There are two powers only which are sufficient to control men, and secure the rights of individuals and a peaceable administration; these are the combined force of religion and law, and the force or fear of the bayonet.” – Noah Webster
9) “Whosoever shall introduce into the public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world.” – Benjamin Franklin
10) “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” – Abraham Lincoln
11) “I have always said and always will say that the studious perusal of the Sacred Volume will make us better citizens.” – Thomas Jefferson
The spearhead behind the effort to verify the quotes was Professor Robert S. Alley from the University of Richmond. He’s the author of James Madison on Religious Liberty. Editors from The Papers of James Madison at the University of Virginia got involved and helped Alley verify all the quotes being used by Barton, which were being disseminated across the country as he toured (Rush Limbaugh used the bogus Madison quote on his show).
Most of the quotes above were included in Barton’s book The Myth of Separation. The whole thing started with an article in Church & State magazine written by Alley. WallBuilders was ultimately forced to admit that the quotes were bogus, although they listed a lot of them as “questionable” and a few as “false.” The admission by Barton was produced in a pamphlet titled 12 Questionable Quotes. Barton then corrected his book and renamed it Original Intent for its second edition.
Barton was also involved in the Herdahl case in Mississippi. Barton’s video, ‘America’s Godly Heritage‘ was being shown in the school (Herdahl v Pontotoc County School District (http://www.schoolprayer.com/courts/decision.html)). The original article addressing all of this was written by Rob Boston in Church & State Magazine, July-August 1996 in the article David Barton Falsifies American History, Consumer Alert: WallBuilders’ Shoddy Workmanship. But it’s not just “the left” that is hammering Barton for his “shoddy workmanship.” The Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs issued a critique of Barton’s movie that highlighted most of the quotes. The BJCPA takes Barton to task and hammers his video.
You can find Barton’s bio online at http://www.wallbuilders.com/aboutus/bio/, where it says he’s an “author and historian.” It should be noted that he is not an historian. The bio even says he has a degree in Arts from Oral Roberts University and an honorary doctorate from the Pensacola Christian College. That’s far from being an historian.
WallBuilders has an article about the quotations on it, but if you read it it’s blathered in nonsense to take away the sting Barton had to feel. You can’t find that article easily unless you do a search for “questionable quotations” in “all categories.”
Additional notes from Arlene-Marie, Director, Michigan Atheists :
David Barton has long been a thorn in my side. I have debated his work on over 22 TV programs and when testifying at the Frankenmuth Bible Study hearings, on two occasions. Barton is a king pin in the National Council of Bible Curriculum in Public Schools and they use his historically inaccurate video tapes to promote this unconstitutional program. At the first hearing in February 2004, I viewed one Barton’s tapes filled with bogus quotes, in a room filled with believers and they brought the house down with their applause.
Beyond the NCBCPS, Barton is a popular revisionist and a leading advocate for emphasizing Christianity in US history by producing revisionist history videotapes and books that cherry-picks and distorts facts, while ignoring historical evidence. He is best known for his claims that, “Separation of church and state is a myth,” and/or, “separation of church and state was invented by the Supreme Court.”
These claims, and others, were big issues for me while defending separation of state and church during the tour of Roy’s rock in Michigan. Michigan’s supporters of this hunk of rock were spouting Barton’s bogus quotes at each stop and the media never failed to pose their questions around Barton’s claims. In fact, Barton’s claims haunt me and I think all Atheists, in every aspect of our separation debates, and discussions from every level of the media.
However, I don’t think everyone is aware of the fact that they are quoting Barton. I feel that over time his material has simply become a familiar part of their (media / believers) vocabulary. Maybe now is a good time for Michigan Atheists to consider continuing to gather supportive dialogue to expose Barton’s fabricated quotes, develop talking points and write letters to the media exposing these bogus quotes.