Senate Majority Leader Invites ‘christian Nation’ Advocate To Lead Tour

Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) invited Senate colleagues on a U.S. Capitol tour led by “Christian nation” advocate David Barton.

On March 31, Frist sent letters inviting his colleagues to a “private tour of the U.S. Capitol building with WallBuilders President David Barton.” Frist asked senators and their families to come enjoy a “Fresh Perspective on Our Nation’s Religious Heritage with a Special Tour of the U.S. Capitol.” Barton was described as “a historian noted for his detailed research into the religious heritage of our nation.”

Americans United has pointed out repeatedly that Barton is not a legitimate historian. He is a graduate of Oral Roberts University and former math teacher at a private Christian school. His books have been studded with errors and are designed to promote the idea that America was founded to be a “Christian nation.”

In addition, Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, pointed out that Barton has called for impeaching federal judges who hand down rulings that displease social conservatives.

“He is to American history what the fundamentalist creationists are to science,” Americans United staff member Rob Boston told the newspaper.

Boston, who has written three books about the Religious Right, said, “Barton doesn’t like the fact that the United States was founded as a secular republic. So he has created a cut-and-paste revisionist history designed to show we were actually founded to be a Christian nation.”

On the Senate floor, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) decried Frist’s move, noting that Barton “intends to prove that the separation of church and state is a myth, and that America’s Founders intended for the United States to be a Christian nation.” Lautenberg also blasted Barton for his attacks on the courts and called on Frist to drop the tour.

In light of the controversy, Frist scaled back the event. He and his wife and several aides wound up taking a private tour with Barton.

In other news about religion and government:

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has started a new study group for Catholic members of Congress to grow deeper in their faith but apparently you must be Republican to attend.

Santorum in March invited 10 senators and six House members to meet in his private office and study Catholic doctrine with the Rev. Michael Sliney, a Washington-area priest. All those invited are Republicans and all but one, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), are opposed to legal abortion.

Religious events in the Capitol are common, but most groups are bipartisan and open to members of various faiths.

A Notre Dame Law professor who once wrote an article defending the Inquisition was invited to testify before the Senate on the need for a Federal Marriage Amendment.

Gerard V. Bradley, a frequent critic of federal court rulings upholding church-state separation, authored an essay titled “One Cheer for the Inquisitions” on the website www.catholic.net. He complained that people perceived the Inquisition as a single historical event when in fact there were several inquisitions over a long period of time. People cite the excesses of a single inquisition, he observed, to argue against allowing the church to have a say over public affairs.

In the article, Bradley wrote, “The Myth of the Inquisition is just that: phony, made up, bogus.”

Bradley also implied that the inquisitions had justifiable aims, writing, “The main purposes of these were to save the souls of heretics and those close to them, and to protect the unity of the Church.”

Bradley testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Property Rights April 13. He was invited by subcommittee chairman U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), a Religious Right favorite.