Crackpot, Dishonest “Historian” Distorts History at the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast

There’s nothing wrong with a little prayer, but there is something wrong with a collection of public officials sitting down at a prayer breakfast with a fraud and liar who wants to promote an ahistorical and dishonest version of American history to promote his agenda of pushing his religious values into public schools and government.

According to a local newspaper, David Barton, a self-described “historian,” offered the keynote speech at the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast, offering some of the dishonest claims that he has been peddling for decades:

The first Bible in English in America was printed by none other than the United States government itself, Barton said.

By 1815, Congress had made more than 1,400 official prayer proclamations, and religion was a keystone of pubic schooling.

These linked claims, that Congress printed the first Bible in the United States, and that it was intended for the schools, have been thoroughly debunked, repeatedly.

The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that Barton is an extremist who believes in Christian domination of the nation, opposes legal quality for LGBT persons, calls for regulating Islam and homosexuality, and argues that minimum wage provisions violate God’s law.

That Barton would use this opportunity to spread his disinformation is entirely unsurprising. The Atlantic describes Barton’s work as well as anyone:

For at least the past 20 years, Barton has been a tireless producer of books and pamphlets designed to demonstrate that America was founded by Christians and should be governed by Christians, that the separation of church and state is a myth, and that Protestant Christianity should be a part of government. In that time, he has come to occupy a position of influence within the Republican Party. His success is appalling, first because he is not a historian of any kind (his sole degree is from Oral Roberts University in religious education), and second because, even by the standards of today’s right wing, he is an obvious crackpot.

Barton’s dishonest research and claims became so bad that his own publisher, a Christian publishing house, pulled one of his books in 2012:

Casey Francis Harrell, Thomas Nelson’s director of corporate communications, told me the publishing house “was contacted by a number of people expressing concerns about [The Jefferson Lies].” The company began to evaluate the criticisms, Harrell said, and “in the course of our review learned that there were some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported. Because of these deficiencies we decided that it was in the best interest of our readers to stop the publication and distribution.”

Barton wants to impose his Christianist vision on American schools and public institutions. Instead of manufacturing quotes from Thomas Jefferson he should consider reading him. Instead of accommodating someone who doesn’t respect equal rights for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation and/or religious beliefs, Montana’s political leaders should have just stayed home.

Update/Clarification: To be clear, despite the name, the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast is not an official event sponsored or endorsed by the governor. Governor Bullock, to his credit, did not attend the event.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Much wrong with his claims but it begs the question just what role did religion play in the beginning of public schools. Look up the Philadelphia Bible Riots.

    In 1844, the complaint by Catholics that their children were required to read from the King James Bible each morning in the Public Schools led to a series of riots in the city of Philadelphia over the issue. The King James Bible was required reading in all Pennsylvania public schools, in part because of the efforts of James Buchanan, the future president. Buchanan was a Pennsylvania legislator for many years, and in the 1830’s pushed through legislation creating the first state mandated public schools in the nation. However, in an effort to keep religiosity a part of the curriculum, the Legislature inserted the daily Bible reading. The Catholics objected over what they saw as a heavy handed attempt to undermine their religion when the substitution of the Catholic Bible was not allowed.

    What had started over not so much a separation of Church and State, but rather whose religious interests would be represented, soon divided the city. The anti-Catholic, anti-papal feeling on the part of many of the members of the anti-immigration movement soon bubbled over to the top. Rancor on the part of the Nativists turned into actual physical action. The churches of the Irish Catholics were the primary targets of the Nativists attacks. Of the Catholic Churches burnt during the series of riots, all of the targets were Irish. Although the German Catholics had a large presence in the city, none of their churches were touched. Again, this was often because the Irish were the most prominent immigrant group, and were the most vocal about the conditions of life around them, both spiritual and social.

    One person, recalling the riots, recounted that when there appeared to be a mob approaching the church he was in on one Sunday, the Mass continued, but the male members of the congregation slipped out of the pews, and gathered at the back of the church, handing out clubs. When it appeared the mob outside had dispersed, the congregation breathed a sigh of relief.

    The City of Philadelphia seemed to have adopted a hands off method of dealing with the riots. It provided little protection to the Irish who were being attacked mercilessly by the frenzied mobs.

    However, the police also turned a blind eye to the counter-attacks by the Irish. Protestant churches ended up being the targets of Irish Catholic wrath.

    The riots became a rallying cry for both sides. The Catholics attacked the lack of protection afforded to their members by the civilian authorities during the disturbances. The Protestants published tracts affirming the Catholics duplicity in the matter. Most of them hearkened up an image of the Pope trying to take over the government of the United States. These tracts assumed a life that continued for many years to come. Some were still in publication or re-publication at the time of the Civil War. Others were given new life by the German-American artist Thomas Nast, whose hatred of the Irish was almost equaled by his hatred of the Cathoic Church.

    The Philadelphia Irish didn’t mobilize against the attacks in an organized manner, however. One person who felt that the Irish of Philadelphia should have been more vocal, and belligerent, was the

    Archbishop of New York, John Hughes. When Hughes was called into a meeting with the Mayor of New York about the matter in Philadelphia, the mayor asked Hughes if he was worried about any of his churches being burned. The outspoken Hughes remarked, “No, but I’m afraid some of yours might burn.” Hughes would go on to say that the Irish of New York would not go without a fight, and he would condone such action. “I readily believe that the Irish in Philadelphia should have done more to protect themselves,” he said. “They should have defended their churches, since the authorities could not or would not do it for them.”

    • That’s a good summary of why religious instruction in public schools is so foolish. Even among universally Christian students, it presents problems.

      • Spot on, PW. Part of the reason why Thomas Jefferson wanted The University of Virginia to be a secular institution was to avoid the ridiculous, and often violent, confrontations that could be caused by sectarian differences.

    • As you well know, Craig, there have been multiple attempts of various Christian groups to take over the US government. You link to one such attempt. Other gave us things like adding “In god we trust” to our currency, the line “under god” to the Pledge of Alliegence etc. In no way does that change the fact that America was NEVER intended to be a Christian Nation and there is no evidence to support that our founding fathers considered the United States to be a Christian Nation – in fact, there is plenty of evidence to support that they fought tooth and nail to kill that idea.

  • Even being familiar with what a dreadful publication the IR has become, I was appalled to read about this prayer breakfast at Carroll College and that the speaker was such a hack as David Barton. It was unclear as to whether the Governor was actually in attendance, but just the fact of this flagrant disregard for the Constitutional requirement for separation of church and state should make our community very uneasy.

    • Draftmama, could you please point me to where in the Constitution it says there is a separation of church and state?
      Thank You!

      • Maybe draftmama has better things to do than respond to such glaringly obtuse questions (and really, don’t we all?), but I’ll bite.


        A very simple wikipedia link that should impart all the wisdom you need concerning the first amendment and the establishment clause, one of the cornerstones of our great secular democracy. Now mind you, there’s much more written on this topic, but that’s up to you to find. I’ve done my civic duty.

        Have a nice day.

  • Wow, you guys are really hard on this constitutionally protected meeting of your fellow citizens. Were they plotting a revolution or something? The criticisms of his claims seem quite petty as the documentation provided by those who disprove a few statements the press makes about him also obviously proves his general point:

    Religion was discussed openly in the public square by our founders.

    The writer of this article quotes from a newspaper, which is not quoting directly the source, but Don places these in quotations and attributes them directly to Barton.

    “The first Bible in English in America was printed by none other than the United States government itself, Barton said.

    By 1815, Congress had made more than 1,400 official prayer proclamations, and religion was a keystone of pubic schooling.”

    Clarity sake, please not that these are quotes of a reporters paraphrase of what was said, and not direct quotes of Barton. It is impossible from this information to conclude that what Barton said was in fact false.

    You seem to be offended by a private group gathering and discussing the interconnected nature of politics and religion. I am appalled at your disgust with this truly free gathering of our fellow Americans, while picking apart an indirect quote of the speaker at the event.

    Are you suggesting that:

    Religion should not be discussed openly in the public square.

    What about free speech? What about religious freedom? What about freedom of assembly? I am confused by the tone here.

    • YOU are the type of sicko fanatic that the Founders feared, revrearend goofish! Just who the hell do you THINK you are to attempt to foist your beliefs on others? I for one don’t want you morons anywhere NEAR my government, for you’re ALL full of crap! And you know it!

      Now, little fella, run along and pretend to know something about the holy spaghetti monster in the sky!

      • You’re not showing yourself to be exactly a paragon of religious tolerance, anonymous (aka Larry, if the capitalization is any hint).

    • Rev. Gordish,

      The reason for our concern is that this man, David Barton, is an obvious fraud. He doesn’t hold any credentials confirming him as an actual historian, yet he publishes books that he insists are factual historical analyses. Further, as you can see from the multiple links Don has provided in his article, his arguments have been thoroughly disproven by actual scholars and his book “The Jefferson Lies” has been pulled by his publishing house for being wildly inaccurate. Evangelical christians — people who one would think would be this man’s natural allies — have come out against his ahistorical ravings. David Barton is just another fanatical, right-wing demagogue making a feeble attempt at a Stalinesque revision of our nation’s history. The fact that he was invited to a legitimate political gathering and given the podium is a cause for grave concern and, yes, disgust.

      Hope that helps. Have a nice day.

      • In my own field of Theology, crackpots write all kinds of bold faced lies and confuse lots of people, and use their degrees to ad legitimacy to their baloney. It happens all the time, but there books do not get pulled by their publishers. I suspect that the field of historical inquiry is filled with the same faddish revisionist history, also by academics without scruples.

        Because of this lack of academic honesty, it is hard for me to throw out Barton’s thesis because a couple of academics find it to be revisionist. I haven’t read his book, but I have read the objections, and his rebuttal, and find no evidence that your characterization of “wildly inaccurate” can stand on. Inaccurate on minor details yes, and even probable, but as said before you are all straining gnats in order to demonize Barton, and even using shoddy quotation practices in order to call another person crackpot and dishonest. Hypocrisy?

        The fact is, religious freedom as believed and practiced by Americans from before our founding included freedom of religious people to influence politics and to discuss matters of faith openly in all public arena’s. You can choose to disagree with this freedom, but you cannot pick and choose your facts in order to rewrite history yourselves.

        I guess I need to get Barton’s book and read it myself and draw my own conclusions. I suspect that I will find 95% of accurate at least, but will probably disagree with most of his conclusions, while agreeing with his major point.

        • You’re exactly right about hack academics, Reverend. I think it was Michael Shermer who said, “”Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.” While I can respect every individual’s right to entertain the ideas put forth by Mr. Barton, I am puzzled, and very concerned, by the fact that he’s being taken seriously by people in power when his theories have been so firmly disproven. And, yes, they have been unequivocally disproven and branded as “wildly inaccurate” not just by academics but by religious people such as yourself. You can start with the links Don posted in his article and branch out from there — there isn’t a legitimate publication, person, or organization out there that agrees with Mr. Barton’s thesis.

          To the issue of shoddy quotations: the newspaper article that Don used for a primary source was poorly written. The reporter should have been much more definitive in his referencing of Barton’s work. I assumed I was reading paraphrases, not quotations, of Mr. Barton’s work as there were no quotation marks, though given the way the sentences were structured it makes those paraphrases appear to be quotes. However, proper documentation standards aside, these paraphrases are in line with the type of statements Mr. Barton has made in the past. I don’t think it qualifies me, Don, or anyone else here for the label of hypocrite.

          You’re right in your penultimate paragraph about our right to discuss religious issues in the marketplace of ideas. But, Reverend, Mr. Barton wants to do much more than just discuss the role of Christianity in American politics. He wants to make it the centerpiece of American politics; in essence, he has stated that he believes that America should be a Protestant theocracy, with all of it’s laws and policies being crafted from a literal interpretation of the Bible. That concept terrifies me, sir. The world’s greatest nuclear-armed, military power being run as a Protestant Christian version of Iran? Sorry, not gonna happen while I draw breath.

          I, too, should at least give “The Jefferson Lies” a quick once-over. I’m fascinated with the period of history anyway.

          Thank you for the reasoned, and reasonable, debate. A refreshing thing to find on an internet comment board!

          • There was an ongoing debate in the Christian periodical “World” which was pretty in-depth. Here are the links:


            The critics of Barton last rebuttal states that they object to this about the book:

            “David Barton’s fundamental claim in chapter 7 of The Jefferson Lies is that Jefferson was orthodox for the first 70 years of his life and only rejected the fundamental doctrines of Christianity in the final 15 years of his life.”

            I think that they are offering a reasonable objection and make their case well, but the point they object to isn’t until chapter 7 of the book. The other 7 chapters must certainly be worth reading! Besides, Jefferson’s personal faith is a pretty small matter when it comes to our government.

            Do not worry about fundy’s taking over government and running us like Iran’s theocracy. I have never met any of these bogey men, and my experience with military chaplains of all faiths is that these types are mythical. You can sleep at night. If these types do exit, they certainly couldn’t gain control of our government, and supposing they did, their government would not be theocratic (a theocracy is run by a god through the clergy, like Iran) but would have constitutional checks and balances. Also a mythical protestant theocracy wouldn’t look anything like Iran, since the Shia Muslim religion is vastly different than Christianity. Remember Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” ( Matthew 5:9a ESV) but The Prophet wrote in the Koran, “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every finger of them.” Surat 8:12

            Not at all the same spirit as you can see.

            • of course I wouldn’t thrust aside your comments on just those grounds 😉

              from what I’ve seen of your commenting, Rev, you treat people with much more respect and consideration than you receive from “Anonymous” people who REALLY can’t seem to HELP themselves.

      • indignation
        in·dig·na·tion[ ìndig náysh’n ]
        1. anger at unfairness: anger because something seems unfair or unreasonable

        Yup. Pretty much. Not only not forbidden, but a good thing to do. Isn’t that what you guys have been expressing in this article and responses?

        • Hey, Revrearend Goofish, still believe in creationism, dude?? Huh? Huh? Huh?
          You see, Rev, you are the WORST kind of charlatan, the religeeous kind! Sorry, Goofish, but you don’t know any more than anyone ELSE about religion! And it shows.

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