Fact Check: U.S. Capitol Tour with David Barton

I think David Barton is a pretty cool guy. He researches the mainstream of American religious history, and doesn’t afraid of anyone.

Barton specializing in discovering facts that make atheists angry. It is misleading to respond to him with other, unrelated facts. Obviously any atheist knows that the influential Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, was anti-Christian; and furthermore, that weird sectarians were openly tolerated from America’s earliest days, although they were sometimes driven out of mixed communities. However, that doesn’t disprove anything Barton says.

Here is is Capitol Tour video. My friend did some Snopes style fact checking, and I’ll add commentary.

His preface: “My intention isn’t to do war with the video or the message thereof, but merely to ensure that the truth is accurately portrayed. I have no idea if my sources, which include such questionable references as Wikipedia, are at all accurate. It is plain as day that the United States is a Christian country on account of the overwhelming majority of her citizens who profess that faith. The attempt to baptize the largely Masonic founding fathers is misguided nevertheless, and the attempt to appeal to the original intent of the framers represents the most appalling tendencies in American politics.”
Claim 1: Congress printed a bible for school use. (0:41)
Fact: The Aitken Bible was endorsed by Congress, but printed by Robert Aitken, a Philadelphia-based Scots printer in response to the embargo on the colonies during the Revolutionary War. There is no mention of it being for school use, although it was common for the Bible to be used in schools at the time. (Source: Wikipedia)
Avery’s analysis: At this time in Western history, printing a Bible was such a major undertaking that securing assistance from one’s government was standard, if not necessary. On the other hand, Congress was expressing approval and affirmation of the Bible, and George Washington added: “It would have pleased me well, if Congress had been pleased to make such an important present to the brave fellows [veterans of the Revolutionary War], who have done so much for the security of their Country’s rights and establishment.” So I’ll rank this one Mostly True

Claim 2: Capitol rotunda paintings “recapture Christian history of the United States.” (1:27)
Fact: “Christian” means something closer “European” in this context. It is true that the paintings depict religious scenes. The term “Christian history” is only provided for contrast with the Native history. (Source: common sense)
Avery’s analysis: I’m going to have to say, though, that the baptism of Pocahontas wasn’t exactly a seminal moment in American history. It’s good to draw attention to the link between Christianity and civilization in these  paintings. Ranking: True

Claim 3: The U.S. Capitol was used as a church building under the orders of Vice-President Thomas Jefferson. External churches were permitted to hold services in the old House room and the Marine Corps band was used for some of them. Thomas Jefferson regularly attended church in the Capitol. (2:26)
Fact: This is actually 100% factually accurate, but T.J.’s sentiments on such basic articles of Christian faith like the divinity of Christ and the importance of the Bible are well known. Most of the founding fathers only externally presented themselves as Protestants and in fact hewed to the Masonic religion privately. (Source: Library of Congress website)
Avery’s analysis: T.J.’s church attendance despite this only emphasizes the role of Christianity in the early 19th c. Ranking: True

Claim 4: President Garfield used to be a minister, and furthermore one quarter of the statues in the rotunda are ministers. (5:02)
Fact: James A. Garfield had an eclectic career before he went into politics, including a stint as a minister, which he reportedly disliked. According to the Capitol Architect website, the rotunda contains statues of Presidents Lincoln, Eisenhower, Garfield, Grant, Jackson, Jefferson, Reagan, and Washington, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Secretary Alexander Hamilton, nine statues in all. King and Garfield were ministers— one-quarter of nine is two and one-quarter. (Source: Wikipedia, Architect of the Capitol Website)
Avery’s analysis: Barton supporters will be hard pressed to show me the extra 1/4 of a person. This is stretching the facts. Ranking: Barely True

Claim 5: Thomas Jefferson authorized federal funds for missionaries and church construction as part of a treaty with the Kaskasia. (6:56)
Fact: Actual text is “Whereas, The greater part of the said tribe have been baptised and received into the Catholic church to which they are much attached, the United States will give annually for seven years one hundred dollars towards the support of a priest of that religion, who will engage to perform for the said tribe the duties of his office and also to instruct as many of their children as possible in the rudiments of literature. And the United States will further give the sum of three hundred dollars to assist the said tribe in the erection of a church.” (Source: Oklahoma State Digital Library, Treaty with the Kaskaskia, 1803, Article 3)
Avery’s analysis: Here, again, Christianity is synonymous with civilization. It is often forgotten that this is so. Even 20th century Japan, hardly a Christian state, funded Christian missionaries in the South Pacific. Ranking: Mostly True

Claim 6: Twenty-nine of the fifty-six signers of the declaration of independence held seminary or “bible school” degrees. (7:12)
Fact: All colleges at the time were what we would consider today seminaries. (Source: my 7th grade history teacher)
Avery’s analysis: Indeed. Harvard Divinity School is hardly Bob Jones. This is only Half True

Posted: February 26th, 2011 | Secular-Religious | 10 Comments »


  • http://twitter.com/matthewgamble Matthew Gamble

    Thank you for taking the time to review. Very appreciated.

  • Barymac

    There is no question that the colonies which became the United States were highly religious in nature (Puritans, Quakers, Catholics [Maryland], and Presbyterians were the moving force beind several). However, the First Amendment’s prohibition against the establishment of any “state” religion memorializes the founders’ belief than no one religion should be designated as “the” religion in either that state or the country as a whole. And it is no quantum leap to go from freedom “of” religion to freedom “from” religion (a la ACLU).

  • http://twitter.com/ahm Avery

    Actually, you are wrong. Several states in the US, probably those you named, had established churches up until the 20th century, when “freedom from religion” was established by an anti-Catholic Supreme Court justice.

  • http://twitter.com/TruthRider John Hocutt

    Interesting review of the statements/Truths made in the video. I’m not sure how you can say something is mostly true but I can see where half of it is true and the other half a lie…. that I can understand. It’s my opinion that from the review above and from the history of our nation our forefathers and our nation today and in the past believes in God and that He has given us what we have. The Bible is a historical document that presents valuable insight on how to live if you choose to believe in God or not. It is a shame that our country has moved so far from the values and morals of the Bible and it is my hope and prayer we can all move back to the direction of Loving God and Loving our neighbors. What I see today is we do not teach those values and morals in our public schools where they are needed most like we did in the past and that is what is leading us on the road to ruin. Our families are in distress and as we continue to break down the family we will contiue to see the decline of America….my opinion. God Bless America…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1265044875 Mike Johnson

    Your premise is that the opposite of truth is a lie. Not true…. The common understaning of a lie is: a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth. The oppostie of truth is a non-truth or not fact, not a lie.
    I am not convinced that Jefferson was a deist. To say he was not Christian may not have been completely true, but, I don’t think you could say it was a lie based on his actions in public. How can anyone claim to “Know” his intentions when he in fact made the Capitol a church on Sundays.

  • Pingback: Stunning News About Religion and America « txantimedia

  • paul

    Did the other 27 signers have no degree? If all colleges were considered seminaries, then 56 should have had seminary degrees if they were recipients of higher education, right? Interesting, I didn’t realize so many of them were not more educated.

  • bobmo

    At 6:10, Barton says, “…about one fourth of these statues are ministers of the Gospel.” Saying that two and a quarter is “about one fourth” sounds accurate to me.

  • Ruth1940

    Those trying to rewrite history have no problems with writing anything that works on the gullible, such as Christian nationalist David Barton, who inspired Chris Rodda to research and write the well-researched book, Liars for Jesus, and, after seeing an episode of him on The Daily Show on May 4, 2011, decided to post the book on line for free:
    http://www.liarsforjesus.com/downloads/LFJ_FINAL.pdf
    They don’t like the truth, of course, so they lie about Chris, which inspired this:
    http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL283B02A7610703A0
    Early quotes about separation of church and state from church people are interesting: http://www.brucegourley.com/baptists/quotesscs.htm

    http://www.liarsforjesus.com/downloads/LFJ_FINAL.pdf
    They don’t like the truth, of course, so they lie about Chris, which inspired this:
    http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL283B02A7610703A0
    Early quotes about separation of church and state from church people are interesting: http://www.brucegourley.com/baptists/quotesscs.htm

  • http://twitter.com/ahm Avery

    “Atheism is unknown in America; Infidelity rare and secret; so that persons may live to a great Age in that Country, without having their Piety shocked by meeting with either an Atheist or an Infidel.” Benjamin Franklin