David Barton talks about U.S. history, Founding Fathers, Israel

Sunday, July 8, 2012
The Rev. David Barton gives the closing prayer June 29 at a rally for Ed Martin, candidate for Missouri attorney general, in Cape Girardeau.
FRED LYNCH
flynch@semissourian.com

David Barton is nationally recognized as a historian, author and commentator on issues of faith and America's founding. Barton is the former co-chairman of the Republican Party of Texas and founder and president of WallBuilders, a pro-family organization that is faith-based and focuses on American history. The name of the organization, according to its website, is taken from the book of Nehemiah when Israel joined to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

Barton was in town June 29 for the Ed Martin and Rick Perry rally at the Arena Building in Cape Girardeau. Following the rally he answered a few questions for this week's Ministry Focus.

Q: You are known by many as a minister, pastor, historian, even being on the Glenn Beck show. What has led you to this prominent role in media and politics?

A: Let me say I am not a pastor, I haven't been a pastor. I have been involved in ministry stuff in the churches, but not at the pastoral level. There are several aspects have led me to this. One is years ago as I watched legislation be made and I saw how often it was out of step with what I liked and what I wanted, I realized that I had to do something to try and make a difference. So we entered in at local level first and tried to work with city council races and tried to work in others.

One of the things I learned a long time ago early in this process is you want to elect people you don't have to lobby. If I have to call somebody and lobby them to do something, I have already lost the battle. So I needed to start early on by recruiting the right kind of people who run for office and help get them in office and that helps change policy and turns it around. That is what really got me in the political direction.

Then, what got me in the historical direction was I had been taught in school all sorts of things about American history and that was fine. I went through it and believed it, etc., but I came across two really old documents that I had been taught about in school, government documents. But when I read the documents, it did not match what I had been taught about the documents. That got me real curious, and so we started collecting old documents and reading them, documents that I had been taught about. So, now we own more than 100,000 documents from before 1812. Thousands of Washington's writings and Jefferson's, all sorts of things. Black history, constitutional history. You name it. Religious history. So that's what has led us on the history side now; that is why we are involved in the development of so many history standards for states across the nation and do a lot of history work in a lot of locales.

Q: Your latest book is "The Jefferson Lies." What surprised you the most in your research about Thomas Jefferson?

A: Again, Jefferson was really the victim of my education, as he is with most of us. We were taught certain things about Jefferson. I was shocked, number one, to find that he had written 19,000 personal letters, and as I got into those letters I found he had an opinion on nearly everything, including the things we face today. He was writing on health care back in 1803, writing on immigration; writing on all sorts of stuff. He even dealt with federal bailouts and stimulus bills, and I was shocked that he had opinions on so many things that we face today.

Then the second thing that really surprised me was when I read the writings and saw how clear he was on so many issues, I found that was very different from what I had been taught about Jefferson -- particularly regarding his faith and morals. That really stood out to me. As I saw that and as we have collected so many writings and I have started reading these things, I recognize that most people had the same education I had and that it would be helpful for them to see actual documents rather than what they had been taught in school. That is why I did the book, to kind of reconnect people with great founders, with great aspects of our history; give them a reason to be really proud of America again.

Q: Jefferson is often associated with separation of church and state. Would you say that this has been misconstrued or would you say it is accurate?

A: It is accurate that Jefferson was associated with separation of church and state, one of the huge advocates. But the problem is the Supreme Court changed the meaning in 1947.

So separation of church and state in Jefferson's day meant keep the government away from stopping religious activities.

So Jefferson, when he wrote his famous separation letter, it was in regard to concern that the Baptists in Connecticut were expressing over the government trying to regulate what they were doing, their expressions. Jefferson said that won't happen. There is a law of separation between church and state.

Four other times he wrote the same way, always that separation would keep the government from stopping activities.

So for 150 years after Jefferson used that phrase, every court that used Jefferson's phrase used it to keep activities in public, not take them out.

In 1947 the Supreme Court in a case called Everson vs. Board of Education, they essentially said we think this is the wrong way to do it. Separation should keep religion out of public not keep it in public. So what we have is in every case since 1947 where they have cited Jefferson's phrase, they cite the eight words of the phrase. No case since 1947 has reprinted Jefferson's full letter which contains that phrase. It was a short letter -- three paragraphs, maybe 200 words. Because, when you read the entire letter it is very clear that separation means the government can't stop religious activities.

So Jefferson is an accurate representative of separation of church and state the way it was defined to be for all those hundreds of years. He is not an accurate representation of what the court has made it in the last 60 years.

Q: This month you will be participating in the Christians United for Israel conference. What are your thoughts about the current state of Israel?

A: It is interesting, and I've got to say the Founding Fathers took very clear positions, not on Israel but about Jews and relationships with our Jews.

It is very striking that in the beginning we have a number of Jewish Founding Fathers. You have Washington's warm relationship with the Hebrew synagogues and the Jewish folks. We had a number of commanders in the military who were Jewish.

Whenever religion came under attack in America, as it did with Thomas Payne, you had both Jews and Christians who acted together to defend religion. So there is a long relationship of very good relationships with Jewish folks.

As Israel became a nation in '48 it became independent. Of course America was the first one to recognize it and stand with them. We've been a long-term ally. What is striking is I was in Israel three times last year, and in that period of time with political leaders ... and the Israelis were very, very clear. They said this is the worst relations that Israel has had with America since 1948. We've never had relations this bad.

There were a number of things I had no clue about that I had not heard covered in our media, including a vote where the U.N. had a vote on Israel practicing apartheid with women, which they don't. Women are involved in every aspect of society. For the first time the United States did not veto that resolution. So Israel is on record now as being condemned for their sexism, etc., and they have had women in the military longer than any folks I know about. Women are involved in all sorts of aspects.

So there has been all these condemnations of Israel and we won't even stand up to veto the most ridiculous of the condemnations. And I didn't know about that until I got to Israel, and it was those folks who told me about it.

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