Over the weekend, I was given a “history” lesson by Kenneth Blackwell, Newt Gingrich, Randy Forbes and dozens of other Religious Right favorites speaking at the Faith and Freedom Conference and Strategy Briefing here in Washington.
Their version of history certainly wasn’t the one I learned in school. But the nearly 200 “values voters” who traveled to Washington for the event hung on every word and cheered speakers on – an image that would make any real historian cringe.
Ralph Reed’s conference, which consisted of a long lineup of right-wing speakers, was geared toward motivating the Religious Right base to get the vote out this November. Reed said the group wants to “stop the Obama agenda” and “reclaim the American idea.”
That “idea,” of course, is that America is a Christian nation and that the Founding Fathers based our Constitution on Christian beliefs and principles.
Family Research Council’s Kenneth Blackwell, for example, started things off by claiming that the “Judeo-Christian heritage of our Constitution and our culture and our people is under attack.” He insisted that James Madison, the Father of our Constitution, once said Americans should “live in accordance with the 10 Commandments of God,” – an utterly bogus quote that faux historian and Glenn Beck favorite David Barton circulated for years.
Newt Gingrich claimed that those on the left “fundamentally misunderstand [Thomas] Jefferson.”
“The idea that Jefferson stood for driving God out of public life is a fundamentalist, secular falsehood,” he declared.
Gingrich based this on the fact that after Jefferson wrote his famous 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists, where he first mentioned the wall of separation between church and state, the third president attended a religious service in the Capitol.
Gingrich conveniently left out the fact that there were few other buildings in D.C. at the time to hold large events and that Jefferson attended the service because the sermon was being given by his good friend, John Leland, a staunch church-state separationist. This can hardly be used as insight into Jefferson’s overall philosophy on religion and government.
Gingrich wasn’t alone in his selective and twisted recollection of U.S. history. U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) listed a few instances when our government has mistakenly eroded the church-state wall as concrete evidence that America was intended to be a Christian nation.
For example, he cited the Supreme Court’s 1892 Holy Trinity v. United States ruling as proof that the high court has declared this to be a Christian country. Never mind the fact that the high court has repudiated this notion in multiple cases ever since.
It’s unbelievable that Blackwell, Gingrich, Forbes and their friends can actually think they know more American history than real historians. But what’s truly astonishing is that they’ve succeeded in convincing their base to believe their line that all those in academia are left-wingers who cannot be trusted.
For more intriguing details and outlandish rhetoric from this conference, check out the upcoming issue of Church & State. I’ll give you a full report there.