5 Christian Right Leaders in Desperate Need of a Civics Lesson About How America Works
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Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay captured headlines recently with a claim that God wrote the U.S. Constitution. The strange assertion does a great disservice to James Madison, who is generally acknowledged as the "Father of the Constitution," but it’s hardly the weirdest thing members of the far right have said about U.S. government over the years.
The truth is, many leaders of the Religious Right and their followers could use a civics lesson. Their descriptions of American government and the history behind it are usually bound up more in wishful thinking than reality. Like creationists who made up a fake “science” because they don’t like evolution, Religious Right acolytes are prone to rewrite our nation’s governing documents to fit their preconceived notions.
Here are some great moments in Religious Right civics (mis)education:
1. David Barton says the three branches of government come straight from the Old Testament. David Barton is a Texas-based pseudo-historian much beloved by the Religious Right. Barton doesn’t actually have a degree in history—he graduated from Oral Roberts University with a degree in Christian Education—but that hasn’t stopped him from posing as a professor.
Barton is buddies with Glenn Beck, who uses him as “faculty” for online classes that are marketed to gullible people. In 2010, Talking Points Memo actually paid money to view some of the classes. In one lecture, Barton helpfully explained that the three branches of the U.S. government are based on a passage from the Book of Isaiah.
The Old Testament is full of autocratic kings, not democracy. So where did Barton come up with this notion? You just have to know how to read the book. In case you’re wondering, the passage in question, Isaiah 33:22, reads, “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us.” That pretty much settles it.
Elsewhere in the video, Barton explained that the separation of powers comes from Jeremiah 17:9 and tax exemption for churches (which, by the way, isn’t even mentioned in the Constitution) comes from Ezra 7:24.
2. Bryan Fischer advocates limiting voting to those who own property. Fischer, director of issue analysis for government and public policy at the American Family Association, seems to pine for the 19th century. In January, he outdid himself by advocating limiting voting to property holders only.
“You know, back in the day, the colonial period, you had to be a landowner, a property owner, to be eligible to vote, and I don’t think that’s a bad idea,” Fisher said on his radio program. “And the reason is very simple: If somebody owns property in a community, they’re vested in that community. If they’re renters, they’re gonna be up and gone. They could leave the next day. They’ve got no tie to the community, they’ve got no long-term investment in the community. But someone who owns property, he cares, now he cares, about the public policies that manage that community.”
Aside from Fischer’s dubious assertions—who says renters don’t care about their communities?—what he’s advocating here is elitist and fundamentally anti-democratic, which is why such policies no longer exist. Although common during the colonial era, property qualifications for voting began disappearing in the early 1800s and were pretty much a memory by 1850.
3. Pat Robertson says nothing in the Constitution calls for separation of church and state. TV preacher Pat Robertson holds a law degree from Yale Law School, but you would never know that based on the things he says about the Constitution.
According to Robertson, “there is no such thing in the Constitution” as church-state separation; that concept is “a lie of the left.” Robertson has asserted that the separation of church and state comes from “the constitution of the communist Soviet Union.” Robertson publications have compared the “wall of separation between church and state”—a metaphor used by Thomas Jefferson—to the Berlin Wall.