Conversation: David Barton
Author and historian David Barton founded and is president of WallBuilders, a national pro-family organization helping citizens become active in their local schools and communities through the distribution of historical, legal and statistical information. He and his wife, Cheryl, have three grown children and reside in Aledo, Texas. Recently, Barton spoke with Alton Garrison, executive director of Assemblies of God U.S. Missions.
tpe: How did you become involved in your current ministry?
BARTON: In 1987 I was researching the Supreme Court decisions in 1962-63 that removed voluntary school prayer and Bible reading from public schools. I learned that, following those decisions, nationwide student academic achievement scores plummeted and student crime and immorality soared. Those research findings, based on cabinet-level federal statistics, led to my first book, America: To Pray or Not to Pray.
Historic court rulings on many issues — such as prayer in public places, Bible reading in schools and the use of public pornography — were exactly opposite to those rendered by courts today. In my library collection are some 70,000 original documents predating 1812 that unequivocally document our nation's religious, moral and constitutional heritage, and its Christian heritage.
tpe: What was the vision of our Founding Fathers, and how do we regain it and communicate it to today's culture?
BARTON: To understand the vision of our Founding Fathers, we must understand the sources of their ideas: the Bible and the sermons of Christian ministers. After studying hundreds of sermons in the century preceding American independence, historian Alice Baldwin concluded: ÒThere is not a right asserted in the Declaration of Independence which had not been discussed by the New England clergy before 1763.Ó
We must recover the knowledge of our history, including the applicability of the Bible to all aspects of public life and policy. As President Woodrow Wilson accurately acknowledged, ÒWe are trying to do a futile thing if we don't know where we have come from, or what we have been about.Ó
tpe: What are the most pressing legal issues in today's culture?
BARTON: The source of law is the most significant debate in today's culture: Is God or man the originator and source of law, government and rights? Our founding documents openly acknowledged (1) that God gave specific rights to men (Òall men É are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rightsÓ), and (2) that it is the purpose of government to protect those rights (Òto secure these rights, governments are instituted among menÓ).
Among the God-given rights to be protected by government are those of life, liberty, property, religious freedom, self-protection, due process, sanctity of the home, as well as other inalienable rights listed throughout the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
As long as God is acknowledged as the source of our rights, government will remain stable and those rights will be secure. When people see themselves as the source of those rights, then government may invade or change those rights — as is currently the case regarding abortion, public acknowledgment of God and definitions of marriage.
tpe: How has the relationship between freedom and religion in our country disconnected from its original intent?
BARTON: Americans have largely forgotten the source of our freedoms, having never heard John Adams' declaration: ÒThe general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were É the general principles of Christianity.Ó Richard Henry Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, declared that the Declaration itself was ÒcopiedÓ from John Locke's Two Treatises on Government — a book that cites the Bible more than 1,500 times to show the proper operation of civil government.
In America, our freedoms and our faith are directly connected.
tpe: How has the teaching structure of our country's educational system changed?
BARTON: America's first public education law was passed in 1647. Called ÒThe Old Deluder Satan Act,Ó it was enacted to prevent Òthat old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures.Ó
America's first textbook (The New England Primer, 1690) relied heavily upon the Bible and was used in American classrooms until the 1930s. The first English-language Bible in America was printed in 1782 by the Continental Congress as an Òedition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of our schools.Ó
In 1791, Benjamin Rush (another signer of the Declaration and also known as the ÒFather of Public Schools Under the ConstitutionÓ) penned a policy paper setting forth a dozen reasons why the Bible would never be taken out of schools.
For three centuries the philosophy of American education reflected Proverbs 1:7, that Òthe fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.Ó This remained the standard until 1962-63.
tpe: What evangelistic opportunities and obstacles lie ahead?
BARTON: The need for evangelism has not changed in two millennia, for man will always need the gospel message. However, the obstacles to evangelism have definitely increased, especially in America.
Many Christians fail to recognize that while our rights are biblically given, they must be politically protected. In fact, most are not even aware the question of whether Christians can hand out gospel material in public has reached all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Similarly, cases have been filed challenging whether churches may require their staff to abide by biblical standards of morality; have food pantry ministries, radio ministries, homeless ministries, Christian schools, television ministries, or Christian bookstores; expand their facilities on their own property; and whether cities can eliminate all churches through enacting Òchurch-free zonesÓ or prevent churches from entering a town.
That such basic rights are now objects of legal challenge affirms that if citizens desire to exercise their God-given rights without penalty, they must have political protection to do so — they must elect leaders and judges who embrace God-fearing values and will protect God-given rights.
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