Last week we noticed that David Barton was scheduled for a segment on Mike Huckabee’s weekend program on Fox News. We assumed that Barton would use the opportunity to spread his bogus, one-sided views that America was founded as a distinctly Christian nation and that is exactly what he did, giving his standard presentation about how essentially every one of the Founding Fathers was a dyed-in-the-wool Christian believer, including Thomas Jefferson who, Barton claims, was, even as “the least religious founder [was] way out there even further than most Religious Right today would be.”
One of Barton’s central claims is that the majority of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution held seminary degrees, thus making them extremely religious. This was a claim that Huckabee himself made during his presidential election and one that was quickly shot down:
During the Republican debate, Mike Huckabee said he believes one of the defining issues facing the country is the sanctity of human life. Arguing that the issue is of historical importance, he invoked the Declaration of Independence’s rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and said that most of the signers of the declaration were clergymen.
Not even close.
Only one of the 56 was an active clergyman, and that was John Witherspoon. Witherspoon was a Presbyterian minister and president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University).
A few more of the signers were former clergymen, though it’s a little unclear just how many. The conservative Heritage Foundation said two other signers were former clergymen. The religion web site Adherents.com said four signers of the declaration were current or former full-time preachers. But everyone agrees only Witherspoon was an active minister when he signed the Declaration of Independence.
One issue that may contribute to the confusion about which signers had a history in the clergy is that during the time the Declaration was written, people who studied at universities often received doctorates of divinity, a common degree designation, even if they were not working clergy, said Mary Jenkins of the Independence National Historical Park. As for religious affiliations, all of the signers were Protestant Christians with one exception, Charles Carroll of Maryland, who was Roman Catholic.
We’d like to give Huckabee every benefit of the doubt, but even if you consider former clergymen among the signers the best you could come up with is four. Out of 56. That’s not “most,” that’s Pants-on-Fire wrong.
It’s pretty obvious that Huckabee got this “fact” directly from Barton and that the two have a close personal relationship, as demonstrated by the fact that Huckabee introduced Barton by proclaiming that he is ” a big fan and, for the past several years, a friend” of his. This reinforced Huckabee’s past statements that Barton is “the greatest living historian on the spiritual nature of America’s early days” and maybe even the single best historian in America today.
We’ve written a great deal about Barton’s “history” in the past and how he uses it to further the Religious Right’s political agenda, including this report on his work from a few years ago entitled “Propaganda Masquerading as History.“
But Barton’s mission can basically be summed up with this explanation he gave of his work last year, which is to try and ensure that every aspect of this nation’s life operates in accordance with Biblical principles:
The Bible clearly teaches that the way people view their own history affects the way they behave. God wants us to know our history and learn its lessons. At WallBuilders, we present American history, and we do so with a Providential perspective. In short, history not only shows God’s workings and plans but it also demonstrates the effectiveness of biblical principles when applied to church, education, government, economics, family, entertainment, military or any other aspect of life.