Rep. Michele Bachmann announced last month that she wants to hold “Constitution classes” for new members of Congress in the hopes of preventing them from being “co-opted into the Washington system.” She’s already announced several people she wants to teach the classes, including David Barton, a controversial figure whose ideas about the Constitution and the founding fathers have drawn sharp criticism from both the religious and secular communities.
“Every week the hour before we take our first votes, we have our weekly class so that we are reminded of our constitutional jurisdictional limits,” Bachmann told Glenn Beck in a recent radio interview. She mentioned Barton as a key figure in those weekly classes.
Bachmann and Barton have a long relationship going back to Bachmann’s time as state senator. Barton was invited to Minnesota to help Bachmann with legislation on school history standards, she’s appeared his radio show numerous times, and she and Barton have conducted tours in Washington, D.C., to demonstrate to tea partiers how religious the Founding Fathers were.
But Barton, who has said the idea of separation of church and state is a myth, has garnered his fair share of controversy. He has suggested the federal government should regulate homosexuality, and his association with reported anti-Semitic groups prompted the Anti-Defamation League to condemn him earlier this year. In the 1990s, he spoke to the Christian Identity Movement, a group that “asserts that Jews are ‘the synagogue of Satan’; that Blacks and other people of color are subhuman; and that northern European whites and their American descendants are the ‘chosen people’ of scriptural prophesy.”
He has called holding congressional sessions on Sunday unconstitutional and he has stated that United States borders were drawn by God.
“God’s the one who drew up the lines for the nations, so to say open borders is to say, ‘God, you goofed it all up and when you had borders, you shouldn’t have done it,'” he said recently on his radio program. “And so, from a Christian standpoint, you cannot do that. God’s the one who establishes the boundaries of nations.”
His point: God condemns illegal immigration.
Barton has come under intense criticism for what many have called revisionist history and using unverified quotes from the nation’s founders to promote the idea that the U.S. Constitution calls for America to be a Christian nation.
The Baptist General Association of Virginia passed a resolution last week saying in part, “Whereas, the Baptist principles of religious liberty and its safeguard, separation of church and state (or government neutrality toward all religions and nonreligion), are well grounded in this nation’s history.”
The group singled out the work of David Barton in its resolution, calling him inaccurate and urging it’s members not to read his work.
Evangelical Christian filmmaker Chris Pinto released a film in October debunking many of Barton’s assertions about America being founded as a Christian nation.
“The reason that men like David Barton want to take the founders and go into churches and try and convince you that these guys were Christians is because they want you to become entangled in the politics of this world,” Pinto told Christianity Today last week.
Here’s Pinto taking on Barton’s claims:
Bachmann and Barton have given guided tours of the U.S. Capitol to show “the foundational role God has played throughout American history” for tea partiers. The duo have worked together for many years.
Barton came to Minnesota in 2005 to help Bachmann shape the state’s “history standards.” Bachmann wanted to make sure that references to religion in historical documents were taught in Minnesota’s public schools. Barton came to the Minnesota Senate to give a presentation at Bachmann’s invitation.
In a 2008 interview with Barton, Bachmann said, “It’s important for your listeners to know that there are strong, believing members of Congress who get it about our nation’s heritage and we love and appreciate David Barton.”
She added, “I’ve probably been on four of his Spiritual Heritage tours at the Capitol, and the staff knows, whenever David’s going to be in town doing one, if I can get over there, I want to go because I learn something new every time I’m going through one of his tours. He’s a treasure for our nation.”
Kyle Mantyla, senior fellow with People For the American Way, has been tracking Barton’s career – and the criticism he’s generated from both the right and left.
“That Rep. Bachmann would possibly tap someone like David Barton to teach this class is in no way surprising, since Bachmann clearly has no desire to gain a true understanding of the Constitution and is looking instead for an opportunity to pass off right-wing propaganda as scholarship,” Mantyla told the Minnesota Independent. “As such Barton is the perfect teacher for her effort. In fact, only Bachmann would consider having a class on the Constitution taught by a man whose academic credentials consist entirely of a B.A. from Oral Roberts University and an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Pensacola Christian College.'”
Mantyla points to a PFAW report on Barton that includes criticism from several important sources. Barton’s work has been unfavorably criticized by the Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University, History professor Richard Pierard of Indiana State University, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Texas Freedom Network.
Former Republican Senator Arlen Specter wrote in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy that Barton’s “pseudoscholarship would hardly be worth discussing, let alone disproving, were it not for the fact that it is taken so very seriously by so many people.”
The classes will be a part of the new Constitutional Conservative Caucus that Bachmann intends to start. It would be separate from the Tea Party Caucus that she founded in the U.S. House earlier this year.
“Scholars such as David Barton, members of the media who cherish [the founding] principles such as [Fox News host] Sean Hannity, honorable commentators such as Judge [Andrew] Napolitano, honorable judges and justices, and leading legal minds will and have been invited to speak,” Brooke Bialke, Bachmann’s deputy chief of staff, told AOL News. “Topics ranging from the commerce clause to the intersection of constitutional principles with daily concerns such as Medicare will be covered.”