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Christian Cowboy Plots to Bring Christ into Kids' Social Studies Class

David Barton likens himself to a biblical prophet. He wants to destroy the separation of church and state. Why is he designing school curricula?

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A fourth member of Wallbuilders’ board is Stephen McDowell, co-founder of the Providence Foundation. (Barton, in turn, serves on the Providence Foundation’s board.)

The Providence Foundation, based in Charlottesville, Va., poses as a benign group dedicated to promoting a "biblical worldview." In fact, the organization seems to be aligned with Christian Reconstructionism, an ultra-fundamentalist theology that seeks to scrap democracy and impose a harsh Old Testament regime on modern-day America.

In 2003, McDowell penned an article giving the "biblical" perspective on slavery. The essay was based heavily on the writings of R.J. Rushdoony, the late Christian Reconstructionist theologian who espoused some forms of slavery as well as executing people for adultery, homosexuality, witchcraft, worshipping false gods and a variety of other offenses.

McDowell’s article, posted on WallBuilders’ site, says the American form of slavery was wrong, but notes, "In light of the Scriptures we cannot say that slavery, in a broad and general sense, is sin."

Barton’s dalliance with Christian Reconstructionism seems to be leading him to adopt increasingly hard-line views. In 2002, he spoke at a "Worldview Weekend" conference in Pearland, Texas, telling attendees that the Bible can answer any social or political question and indicating that government policies should be based on it.

Barton said the Bible addresses taxation (including the estate tax), zoning, the minimum wage and the 40-hour work week. He urged attendees to adopt a "biblical worldview [even when] you’re getting ready for your carpool or doing yard work."

Over the years, Barton’s views have evolved, morphing from a "Christian nation" outlook to a more alarming strategy that seeks to link fundamentalist church pastors and members with far-right politicians in a crusade to impose "biblical" morality on America through political action. In his 2002 Texas speech, for example, Barton said since judges interpret the law, it is imperative that they be "God fearing" – code language for fundamentalist.

Barton’s goals are far reaching – but they spring from modest beginnings. He first landed on Americans United’s radar screen in 1993, when AU members began calling the organization to ask about a Barton video that was making the rounds on public-access channels. The tape, "America’s Godly Heritage," summarized Barton’s arguments as outlined in his self-published 1989 book The Myth of Separation.

AU obtained a copy of the tape and dissected it in the April 1993 Church & State. (See "Sects, Lies and Videotape: David Barton’s Distorted History" and "David Barton’s Bad History: When A Myth Is As Good As A Mile.")

Barton’s book and video were so outrageous and filled with errors and astounding leaps of logic that AU believed he would be easy to dismiss.

For example, Barton claimed that Thomas Jefferson, in his famous letter to the Danbury (Conn.) Baptists that endorses the concept of a church-state wall, went on to assert that he supported only a "one directional" church-state wall and favored "Christian principles" in government.

Barton also asserted that the Supreme Court never ruled on church-state separation until 1947 and insisted that the role of religion in public schools had never been challenged in the courts prior to 1962.

None of this is true -- and Barton was later forced to correct the record in several instances. But, remarkably, Barton’s litany of bad history and sloppy errors never slowed down his juggernaut one bit. In fact, his fame just continued to grow.

Barton’s popularity escalated despite some serious missteps. In 1991, Barton spoke to two groups tied to white supremacists. He later claimed he was not aware of the organizations’ radical ties. The revelation seemed to do him no significant damage.