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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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"Regardless of the claims Christians have made for over two hundred years that the Founders sought to create a Christian nation, the Constitution stands as the supreme rebuttal to that contention," Hughes writes. "Indeed, the Constitution stands as written. It makes no mention of God, it prohibits the creation of a religious establishment, and it outlaws any religious test for public office.

"No matter how orthodox and devout certain Founders may have been in their personal religious beliefs," Hughes continues, "they refused to translate those beliefs into even the mildest constitutional requirement that the nation embrace the Christian faith."

In an interview with Church & State, Hughes said Barton has misread the views of the Founders.

"When these ‘Christian America’ guys say the Founders were Christian, they’re absolutely right –; many of them were Christians," Hughes said. "When they point to the respect for Christianity that the Founders had, they’re right…. But virtually none of the Founders wanted to impose Christianity by the state. I read some of this stuff these people put out, and I just scratch my head. They must be kidding."

In his book, Hughes argues that "Christian nation" advocates also misinterpret the Bible. The New Testament, he said, does refer to a "Kingdom of God." But that kingdom, Hughes argues, is not temporal. Rather, it is an expression of faith among a community of believers that lifts up the poor and the oppressed.

"What they’re basically doing is what Europeans in the Middle Ages did -- the Holy Roman Empire, the Christian empire, Christian England, Christian Germany," Hughes remarked. "People have made that argument for centuries, but to make that argument, you really have to ignore an absolutely central theme in the biblical text that talks about what is the Kingdom of God. It’s just the absolute opposite of the Christian nation."

Other critics have pointed out that Barton is frequently intolerant of other religions. He publicly criticized U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a Muslim, for taking his oath of office on a Koran, accusing him of "flaunting [sic] American traditions and cultural values."

When a Hindu priest was invited to give the opening invocation before Congress in June of 2007, Barton carped that "the prayer will be completely outside the American paradigm, flying in the face of the American motto ‘One Nation Under God.’"

What lies ahead for Barton?

Amazingly, it looks like Barton is branching out into other fields – areas where, like history, he has no legitimate credentials. On June 7, 2007, Barton testified before the U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, criticizing global warming and posing as an expert on how evangelicals view that issue.

But bad history remains Barton’s bread and butter. His efforts to influence Texas’ social studies standards will be a big test of his political clout -- and many on the state school board remain in his thrall.

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn said the answer to Barton’s half-baked history and theocratic worldview is better education and activism. Lynn, an ordained Christian minister, criticized the "Christian nation" view of history and blasted Religious Right efforts to merge religion and government in his 2006 book Piety & Politics: The Right-Wing Assault on Religious Freedom.

"The First Amendment is clear on this matter: The government of the United States is secular, and all faiths are welcome," Lynn said. "Barton seems to think we should be ashamed of that fact. He’s wrong. We should be proud of it."

Rob Boston is an associate editor of Church and State magazine .