David Barton Doesn’t Understand That The Declaration Of Independence And The Constitution Are Two Very Different Documents

Religious Right pseudo-historian David Barton is back with another mind-bogglingly silly argument that the United States is really an officially Christian nation – even though our Constitution doesn’t say that.

Barton’s latest line is that there was no need to mention God in the Constitution because the deity had already been singled out in the Declaration of Independence.

“They didn’t feel like they had to say anything in the Constitution because they’ve already said it really strongly in the Declaration,” Barton said on his radio show recently. “Why repeat it? Because this is just the completion of the Declaration, if you will.” (Thanks to Right Wing Watch for the audio.)

The Declaration of Independence is an important document, but it didn't establish our form of government.

Barton fundamentally misunderstands the nature of these two documents. The Declaration is an announcement to the world – think of it as a kind of really big press release – making it clear that the United States was severing its ties to Great Britain. At the time the Declaration was issued, the Revolution was already under way, and the new nation wanted to explain to other countries why it had taken this dramatic step, likely hoping to win their support.

The Declaration, therefore, lists America’s grievances with England and makes it clear we’re going our own way. It says nothing about the structure of the new U.S. government because that wasn’t its purpose. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration in one day, and it was reviewed and edited by several members of the Continental Congress before being signed and issued.

The Constitution, on the other hand, is a true governance document. Drafted years after the Revolution (primarily by James Madison), it’s much longer and goes into great detail about the structure of the new U.S. government. The Constitutional Convention ran from May 25 – Sept. 17, 1787. During that time, the document underwent many changes and revisions; this was a much more deliberative process. Even then, the document was incomplete: In 1791, the Bill of Rights (also written by Madison) was added.

Barton’s argument that there was some sort of straight line between the Declaration and the Constitution is nonsensical. He seems to forget that there was an interim document, the Articles of Confederation, that held the new government together for a few years but in the end proved to be ineffective.

Also, let’s consider the religious references in the Declaration. There are four of them – “Creator,” “Divine Providence,” “Supreme Judge of the World” and “Nature’s God.” These Deistic terms appear nowhere in the Constitution, but if they did, they would have hardly provided a foundation for a Christian nation.

Barton also ignores the sections of the Constitution that clash with his kooky theory – like the First Amendment. It bans laws “respecting an establishment” of religion and guarantees the freedom to choose your own religion – any religion, not just Christianity. Language in Article VI also bars “religious tests” for public office. Although often overlooked, that provision is very telling. An officially “Christian nation” would not have gone out of its way to make it clear that federal offices would be open to everyone, no matter they believed about religion.

Here’s the bottom line: Had an officially Christian nation been the intent of the Founders, the Constitution would say that front and center. It does not. In fact, its language cuts the other way.

That really is the end of the debate, and, as usual, Barton is on the losing side.