My wife’s family sent me a link to a video on the “US Capitol Tour with David Barton.”  Being a closet historian and an overt deconstructionist, I wanted to check the validity of Mr. Barton’s statements with regards to Christianity and the US Government.  Here’s what I found:
Alas, David Barton (and his sometimes partner Glenn Beck) are well known “revisionists.”  In this case, their revisions go against historical accuracy in an attempt to promote their agendas.  It’s sad because their “truth” is sometimes based on half-truths and outright misinformation.  And yet much of the time, they are historically accurate, making them appear to be on firm footing.  Much of the time, they are not far from the truth, which is why it’s simply tragic — once they are shown to be pedaling misinformation, none of their information can be trusted as accurate.

For the record, Barton is a minister and a Republican activist.  He holds no degrees in history or law, but claims to be an expert in historical and constitutional issues.  To me, he’s like a well-informed tour guide with an agenda.

Based on research, here are the truths and the lies:

1.  Yes, church services were started by Jefferson at the Capitol building.  There were no churches in the newly-built capitol.  People had to worship somewhere.  This trend continued for many years and finally ended in the post-reconstructionist period after the Civil War.  Jefferson was OK with church services in the Capitol so long as services were voluntary, and that no single denomination got to preach there all the time (thus fulfilling the Constitutions requirement that the government not endorse a single church or denomination).  As a result, at times, there were as many as four church services going on at once in the building.  (However, it has now been 130 years since this practice ended, not 50-60 years as Barton states).

2.  Yes, Jefferson used federal money to send missionaries to the Indians… sort of.  He took it personally that the Indians had not yet had the opportunity to hear the Gospel — he wanted them to be under the same Christian umbrella (and notice back then, that God referred specifically to the God of Christianity.  Our Founding Fathers would not have accepted a god other than the Judeo-Christian God.  President Madison even went so far as to say that any religion that wasn’t Christianity was a false religion.)  BUT, there is a lot more to the story.  The people sent to the Indians were archaeologists, whose main purpose (and the main purpose for the trip) was to discover where the Indians had originally come from.  That was Jefferson’s main motivation.  The particular tribe that received these visitors had already been converted to Catholicism.  The Federal funding ($700.) was to build a church and fund a priest who would continue to teach the young.  (BTW – I got all of this from a simple reading of Jefferson’s and Madison’s primary documents — their actual words on the subject).

3.  Yes, there are four very Christian-looking scenes painted in the Capitol’s Rotunda.  Much of our nation’s early history centered on Christianity… and European conquest, which had Christianity as a byproduct: most of the paintings are actually of the latter type.

4.  No, the first printed Bible in America was not printed by congress: the first Bible was printed in 1663 in Algonquin – not English.  The 1782 Bible Barton is referring to is the Aitken Bible.  Robert Aitken was the printer of this Bible, not Congress (and he printed it largely because of a British embargo which included a ban on the importation of Bibles).  It was also Aitken who asked Congress (several times) to endorse his Bible for schools.  Congress absolutely refused.  Eventually, Congress endorsed the accuracy of the translation, but not its use in public schools.

5.  Yes, President Garfield was a minister (and a lawyer, and a politician, and a mathematician, and a military officer).  Basically, he had a lot of different jobs.

6. 1/4 of the statues in the Rotunda are ministers… not quite.  There are nine statues in the rotunda, seven of them presidents.  The others are Hamilton and Martin Luther King Jr.  Garfield and King are the two ministers, so 2/9ths.

7.  29 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence held seminary or “Bible school” degrees… Half True.  Remember the time period that this occurred: all universities at this time were seminaries or “Bible schools” (Mostly Ivy League schools: Harvard, William & Mary {where most went}, Yale, Princeton, U of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Brown, Rutgers, Dartmouth).  What Barton is actually stating is that 29 of these guys were educated in the US at a time when all Universities were “Bible” Colleges.  These guys mostly got law degrees, not seminary degrees.

And so there you have it: mostly true, but not entirely.  Is Barton correct that America was founded on Christianity and that historically, Christianity played a large part in government?  You bet, Barton is absolutely correct in this regard.  Alas, because he was not entirely truthful, much of what he says will get discounted.  It’s better to stay on firm ground and check your sources.