A Review of David Barton's
“Original Intent” is a book by David Barton about Supreme Court rulings that have stripped the Constitution of the founders' original meaning. It was published in 2000 by WallBuilders of Alemedo, Texas.
The book emphasizes religious aspects of the Constitution, especially the doctrine of separation of church and state. Thus, you would not come to “Original Intent” to get a lot of detail about Constitutional Law in the arena of education, for example.
However, the book is a useful summary of case law in its area of emphasis, although the associated commentary is deficient. And as we shall see the thesis is critically flawed.
The Table of contents is not outlined so it is difficult to get a quick handle on the argument David Barton is setting forth. Nonetheless, his theme centers on the phrase “separation of church and state” which he attempts to show was not part of the original intent of the founding Federalists. Initially, the author draws on judicial evidence, historical evidence and the religious tendencies of the founders to make his case.
In Chapter 8 the author discusses eight Supreme Court landmark religious liberty cases which followed the 1947 Everson case. the latter introduced the “wall of separation” terminology. In these he claims the Supreme Court rewrote the original intent of the drafters of the Constitution. Subsequently, he argues that the court erred by relying on a selective use of history.
Later chapters demonstrate how the new subjective standard of judicial opinion is altering the Constitution and Constitutional law in fundamental ways. The law is in a state of flux because the Constitution has become whatever the justices say it is. This new era of positivistic law began in the 1930s and 1940s.
The problem with the book is that the thesis is flawed. The founders did in fact intend to separate their new government from the controlling influence of biblical law. David Barton is oblivious to this fact or where he sees it, actually lauds it.
In Chapter 8, “Rewriting Original Intent”, David Barton makes the definitive statement that “there is simply no historical foundation for the proposition that the Founders intended to build the “wall of separation” that was constitutionalized in Everson…” The actual words, “wall of separation” do not appear, but the wall is nonetheless set in place by Article VI, Section 3.
This paragraph very clearly disestablishes Christianity as the “coin of the realm” so to speak. When the Constitution says that “no religious test shall ever be required for any office…,” it makes it illegal to require a newly elected officeholder to swear allegiance to govern according to the Bible. It thus established the U.S. Constitution as a pluralistic and secular document, completely divorced from religious influence.
Near the beginning, David Barton alludes to Article VI, but praises its effect. He asserts that, “…it was therefore not within the federal government’s authority to examine the religious beliefs of any candidate” (p.34). He adds with approval that “The Founders believed that the investigation of the religious views of a candidate should not be conducted by the federal government, but rather by the voters in each state.”
That is the crux of the problem. A declaration of religious neutrality on the part of the Federal government. This would be like Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai and declaring that he wasn’t going to favor any particular religion, but would leave it to the tribes.
It is in fact the most critical function of the government to ensure that it’s officials are committed to Christ and the Christian religion. To neglect this duty is to commit cultural suicide. The law of God is the only source of justice, and God expects the government at every level to swear to it. David Barton fails to appreciate this most basic of biblical principles related to civil government.
David Barton and the founders are devoted to a milquetoast civil religion, not Biblical Christianity. In his own words, “I agree fully to what is beautifully and appropriately said in Updegraph v. The Commonwealth … --Christianity, general Christianity, is, and always has been, a part of the common law: ‘not Christianity founded on any particular religious tenets’…(p.70)”
“The Christianity practiced in America was described by John Jay as “enlightened,” by John Quincy Adams as “civilized,” and by John Adams as “rational. (p.127). As long as Christianity remains a toothless, feel-good religion, devoid of doctrine, David Barton and the founding fathers are apparently happy with it.
And this leads to another fundamental flaw in the book. David Barton almost always discusses civil government in terms of what it must not do with regard to separation of church and state. He ignores the responsibility government has to govern pro-actively according to the Bible. As noted above, his application of Christianity is toothless when it comes to the civil magistrate.
The deconstruction of the Constitution by the Supreme Court is the inevitable result of the initial rejection of God and biblical law as the basis for the new government. By rejecting the absolute, the founders guaranteed that their posterity would end up awash in a sea of subjectivity.
In conclusion, Mr. Barton calls for a return to “original intent” of the founders to establish a limited federal government based on religious principles. But the fundamental flaw in his thesis makes this an untenable solution.
Our problem is not that we have departed from the original intent of the Constitution. Rather, our problem lies in the seeds of humanism and religious neutrality that have resided in the Constitution from the beginning.
It will do us no good to go back to the point where we went off the track and start over with "original intent." As long as the covenant-breaking features remain intact we will get nowhere. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me. Rather, we need to go back, repent of our national folly, and start down the road of national obedience to the law of God.
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