In 2022, right-wing cellphone company Patriot Mobile launched a political action committee through which it spent over $600,000 supporting school board candidates in Texas. All 11 of the candidates it backed won election, prompting Patriot Mobile President Glenn Story to brag that because of their efforts, Christian conservatives “took over four school boards.”
In March, Patriot Mobile, which bills itself as “America’s ONLY Christian conservative wireless provider,” organized an “Equip and Educate” event in Grapevine, Texas, that focused on “The State of Public Schools in America.” While Patriot Mobile claims that the event was organized “to equip citizens with the tools needed to preserve our union and educate them on all facets of important issues facing America,” the company’s choice to have Christian nationalist pseudo-historian David Barton and his son Tim Barton serve as keynote speakers suggests that providing the audience with accurate information was not a primary concern.
Predictably, the Bartons teamed up to deliver a presentation on “The History of Public Schools in America” that was rife with the sort of disinformation and false history for which they are known.
Tim Barton, who shares his father’s penchant for blatantly misrepresenting history, did precisely that by repeating his father’s false claims about the public school curriculum in New Jersey in the 1800s.
As Right Wing Watch reported in 2022, David Barton routinely cites a document from 1816 that he claims shows that all public school students in New Jersey were required to memorize Bible passages, hymns, and sermons as part of the state’s public school curriculum. Barton’s claims are nonsense, as the document he cites was produced by the board of directors of the Free School Association of Elizabeth-Town, which was an organization that oversaw Sunday schools in the state, not public schools.
According to professor John Fea, chair of the History Department at Messiah University and author of “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?,” a search of American newspapers and periodicals published in the early 1800s “clearly show that this is a Sunday School.”
Despite the fact that this claim is blatantly and verifiably false, Tim Barton nevertheless repeated it during his presentation at the Patriot Mobile event, wrongly asserting that “this is a report from that district to the state of what their students were accomplishing.” It was nothing of the sort; the document is actually a report from the board on what students were expected to learn in the Sunday schools it was running.
To make matters worse, in an effort to bolster the idea that public school students were once routinely required to memorize large portions of the Bible in class, Tim Barton added another false claim. Tim Barton cited a document from 1892 which he claimed showed that every week, public school students in Pennsylvania were required to “memorize two things: a passage from the Bible and then something of significance in the literary world.”
Tim Barton claimed that this document was a report regarding what public school students in Pennsylvania were required to learn, but that is false. The document in question is actually an essay on the benefits of memorization written by educator J. P. McCaskey that was published in various journals in the late 1890s. Contrary to Barton’s assertions, this document is not “a report” on the curriculum in public schools in Pennsylvania, but simply an essay on the merits of memorization that contained various suggestions of what sorts of things would be beneficial to memorize.
In both cases, what Tim Barton claimed were documents attesting that Bible reading and memorization were central components of the American public education system turned out, upon examination, to be something completely different. But the truth about these documents, and American history in general, don’t really matter much to Tim Barton or his father as they are primarily interested in misusing history to mislead audiences about the supposed Christian founding of this nation—all in an effort to promote their modern-day right-wing political agenda.
In addition to promoting the Bartons, Patriot Mobile’s YouTube page also features dozens of videos of Rafael Cruz, the radical Christian nationalist father of Sen. Ted Cruz, leading prayers and Bible study. In a video posted Monday, Cruz ranted that schools accommodating transgender students is “an abomination before God,” declaring that “it is imperative that we as Christians” elect “committed believers that are going to govern according to the word of God to every position in government.” And that starts, Cruz said, with local school boards.
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