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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?

When the Texas State Board of Education issued a list of proposed "experts" to sit on a social studies curriculum panel, one name immediately leaped out to defenders of church-state separation: David Barton.

The panel is supposed to consist of academics and others with specialized knowledge to assist the board in drafting new social studies standards for public schools across the state. The selection of Barton, a Religious Right propagandist who for years has pushed a fundamentalist "Christian nation" view of American history, is a sure sign that trouble lurks ahead.

At the offices of the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), a group that monitors the Religious Right, staff members were alarmed.

"We believe there’s nothing wrong with teaching about the significance of religion in history and society today," said TFN President Kathy Miller. "The problem comes when Barton and others try to use public schools to promote their own personal religious beliefs over those of all others."

TFN, Americans United and other advocates of church-state separation are quite familiar with Barton and his antics. He’s been attacking that constitutional principle for years, as well as arguing that a proper "biblical worldview" means that fundamentalist Christianity must reign supreme over all areas of life – including government. Most recently, Barton has been hobnobbing with Newt Gingrich, as the former House speaker strives to re-make himself as a Religious Right champion.

From his base in Aledo, a town of about 2,000 just west of Fort Worth, Barton runs an outfit called WallBuilders that issues a steady stream of books, videos, DVDs, pamphlets and other materials designed to "prove" that the United States was founded to be a Christian nation. Barton argues that American law should be based on the Bible (or, more accurately, his fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible) and says church-state separation was never intended by our Founders.

The name of Barton’s outfit is somewhat ironic, since WallBuilders exists to tear down the wall of separation between church and state. But Barton was thinking of another wall when he chose that moniker. It comes from Nehemiah 2:17, an Old Testament passage in which the Prophet Nehemiah calls for rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem.

Perhaps somewhat egotistically, Barton apparently likens himself to a biblical prophet who has been ordained by God to rebuild the religious foundations of the nation.

Barton aims to do that by rediscovering an allegedly lost or suppressed Christian history of America. It’s an odd task for him, because although he poses as a historian, Barton isn’t one.

His official bio on the WallBuilders Web site says nothing about Barton’s educational background, probably for good reason: It’s not relevant to what he’s doing. Barton earned a bachelor’s degree in "Christian Education" from Oral Roberts University in 1976 and later taught math and science at a fundamentalist Christian school founded by his father, pastor of Aledo Christian Center.

Despite his thin academic credentials, Barton has managed to become a celebrity in the world of the Religious Right based on his research allegedly "proving" America’s Christian character. He has appeared on programs alongside TV preacher Pat Robertson and fundamentalist radio honcho James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family. Barton gives hundreds of lectures every year, rallying fundamentalist shock troops to oppose secular government and church-state separation.

All the while, Barton, a tall man who frequently sports boots, a rodeo shirt and a cowboy hat, presides over an interlocking network of for-profit and non-profit groups that have produced a tidy sum for himself and made him a star in the world of the Religious Right. In 2005, Time magazine named him one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America.