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Taking On The Critics
David Barton - 10/2003

As an example of the kind of misportrayals and mischaracterizations that David Barton is subjected to by critics, we have provided the following excerpt from an article written by Barry Hankins, an associate director of Baylor University's JM Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies. Hankins' article was entitled Separation Of Church And State Is Not Just For Liberals, and is typical of works by secularism advocates in that while it purports to discuss the “history” of church-state separation, it fails to use historical sources but instead overwhelmingly relies on works from current sources rather than primary or original sources. (David Barton's response is provided below the article excerpt.)


Separation Of Church And State Is Not Just For Liberals excerpt:

Close observers of this phenomenon will know that arguably the most prolific and effective proponent of the antiseparationist view is David Barton, the former math teacher and high school principal who founded Wall Builders, headquartered in Aledo, Texas. Barton barnstorms the country with high tech slide-show presentations purporting to prove that the founders intended to establish a nation that gave preference to Christianity. He has written the aptly titled The Myth of Separation. In all his books, tapes, and public addresses, Barton relies heavily on selected quotations from America's founders. Recently Robert Alley, professor emeritus at Richmond University and an expert on James Madison, questioned a Barton quote attributed to Madison. When Alley's research revealed that Madison had probably never uttered the remark in question, Barton retracted it. In an astounding move, Barton also issued a published retraction of 11 other quotes, listing 10 as questionable and two, including the Madison quote, as false.[7] However, the flap does not seem to have slowed Barton's juggernaut.

David Barton's response:

August 30, 2003

Barry Hankins
J. M. Dawson Institute
Baylor University
Waco, TX 76798

Mr. Hankins:

I recently was given an article you had authored, “Separation of Church and State is not Just for Liberals.” The copy I received was undated; perhaps it is an older article; nevertheless, since I was a subject of your pen (and since you never took the time to consult me either to confirm or deny what you alleged about me), I thought I would present you with a few facts concerning the misrepresentations you made about me on page 1 of that article:

1. To my knowledge, the only time I have acknowledged or read anything that Robert Alley has written was his attack on me for speaking at Gov. George Allen's Inauguration in January 1994. It may come as a complete surprise to you to learn that I neither read nor follow anything Robert Alley may or may not say about me, nor have I read any article by him about Madison or his writings.

2. Since I do not read Alley's materials nor do I concern myself with his writings, he clearly had no influence on our publication of the “Questionable Quotes” list. Consider: we listed over a dozen questionable quotes but Alley apparently mentioned only the Madison quote; and you assert that was the reason we issued our much more extensive list? Ridiculous! In fact, to our knowledge, my article about the uncertainty of the Madison quote predated his; we did not change our position in response to anything he wrote; rather, I publicly announced that I would no longer use the Madison quote (and others) not because it was inaccurate but rather because I had determined to raise the scholarship of the debate from an academic level to the higher level of legal documentation known as “best evidence” - a level of documentation that most of those in your camp have yet to embrace. (For example, In Search of Christian America, written by three PhDs from your viewpoint, purports to search the Founding Era (1760-1805) for evidences of official acknowledgments of Christianity and concludes that there is a lack of such evidence. However, of the hundreds of sources cited to reach that conclusion, some 80 percent were taken from sources published after 1950 - more than a century-and-a-half after the period they purport to investigate! Such disparate and dissimilar sources would be unacceptable in a court of law.)

3. Alley can neither claim that Madison “never” uttered the “quote in question” about the Ten Commandments nor that it was “false.” As you yourself know, Madison's “Detached Memoranda” (surely one of your favorite documents) was not “discovered” until 1946. More Madison letters previously unknown are found regularly, often in the estates of recently deceased individuals who held private collections or inherited family heirlooms received directly from Madison's hand. Furthermore, much of what is known about Madison and his diverse and often changing viewpoints frequently comes from Madison's contemporaries rather than from his own writings. For example, more of Madison's succinct statements against slavery are available through his personal interviews with Harriet Martineau (published in the early 1800s) than from his own writings. Alley can no more claim that the Madison quote does not exist than I can claim that it does. However, I can show that the Madison “quote in question” has been in circulation for generations, and I can document it (as I did) to non-modern works and works by credentialed historians. Quite simply, neither I nor Alley can say whether or not the Madison quote is false; however, I simply decided that I would no longer quote academics, historians, or doctorates of history to establish what the Founders said (as you regularly do) but instead I would cite only primary source documentation that meets a legal standard of evidence. (I continue to challenge your side to meet the same standard.)

4. Your claim that “The flap does not seem to have slowed Barton's juggernaut” is baseless and irrelevant simply because there was no flap other than what you attempted to concoct. Furthermore, the specific work you so recklessly demean (The Myth of Separation) provided over 750 footnoted citations. Therefore, for us to drop a dozen quotes from that work represented a trivially small percentage and no historical conclusion was changed. For example, rather than continuing to use the uncertain James Madison quote on the Ten Commandments, I replaced it with irrefutably-documented statements by other Founders on the same subject - such as the Ten Commandments quote by John Adams (by the way, Adams - unlike Madison - actually signed the Bill of Rights and is an equally competent legal authority on the subject). As a result of my decision to elevate the level of documentation, we replaced The Myth of Separation with Original Intent - a work with over 1,400 footnotes (rather than the 750 in Myth), and a work that not only meets legal standards of scrutiny but that also arrives at the identical historical conclusions reached in The Myth of Separation.

5. On the other hand, I notice that in books from those of your perspective, few footnotes are presented. For example, in The Godless Constitution - an allegedly “scholarly” university text written by two prominent PhDs - no footnotes are provided. As they openly concede, “we have dispensed with the usual scholarly apparatus of footnotes.” While a work such as this with no footnotes is probably acceptable to you simply because of its conclusions, it would not pass legal muster for best evidence; yet my work which does pass the standards of legal scrutiny is completely unacceptable to you. Ironically you frequently embrace and laud the types of works that fail to meet the legal standard of “best evidence” while attacking and demeaning the ones that do.

I recognize that there can be honest differences of opinions between well-intentioned individuals; and I whole-heartedly support your right to free speech — including your right to make uninformed statements, present incomplete and inaccurate information, and offer complete mischaracterizations and misportrayals — as you have done in the part of your article addressing me. Regrettably, the section of your article about me neither meets the standards of basic journalism (where an individual attacked in an article is called and asked to respond to charges) nor of academic scholarship (where footnotes and documentation are provided). In your defense, I did note that you provided one footnote to document my “false” quotes; however, the source of that documentation was actually an attack piece written against me by one of your closest allies — not quite an unbiased objective source! However, objective truth was probably never the goal of your article.

An old lawyers' adage admonishes: “When you have the facts on your side, argue the facts. When you have the law on your side, argue the law. When neither is on your side, change the subject and question the motives of the opposition.” You seem to have chosen the latter course of action.

David Barton


[For more information on this issue please see Unconfirmed Quotations”]

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