It’s been entertaining lately to see so many Republicans come up with new meanings for basic words. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) doesn’t know what ”compromise” means; Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) doesn’t know what “hypocrisy” means; Indiana’s Richard Mourdock doesn’t know what “bipartisan“ means; Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) doesn’t know what ”divisive“ means; and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) doesn’t know what “threaten” means.
And then there’s religious right’s pseudo historian, David Barton, who doesn’t know what “verbatim” means.
For those unfamiliar with Barton, he’s an interesting character. A Republican activist in Texas and twice a guest on “The Daily Show,” Barton has positioned himself as a wannabe American history scholar – despite not having real academic credentials or training – who sets out to prove the nation’s founders wanted the United States to be a “Christian Nation.” Unfortunately for Barton, his materials are filled with claims that don’t stand up well to scrutiny.
The far-right celebrity’s speeches aren’t any better. Kyle Mantyla at Right Wing Watch flagged this gem yesterday, showing a presentation Barton did last month:
Note, in the clip Barton claims the Constitution’s provision regarding treason “is a verbatim quote out of Ezekiel 18:20.” That’s plainly false. Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution reads, “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.”
Ezekiel 18:20 reads, “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”
Since Barton has struggled with the meaning of the word “verbatim” before, I’m left to assume he doesn’t know what it means.
Of course, there’s a larger point to all of this: the religious right wants to find constitutional language that doesn’t exist.
As much as the David Bartons of the world resist, the United States Constitution is a secular document, which created a secular government. The Constitution includes no references to God, Christianity, Jesus, the Ten Commandments, or the Bible. It mentions religion twice: once to prohibit religious tests for public office, and again in the First Amendment, which separated church and state.
The purely secular Constitution was, for generations, a source of outrage and frustration for the religious right’s forbearers. In the 19th century, some even blamed the Civil War on the fact that our Constitution didn’t mention God.
But in the 21st century, folks like Barton and those who celebrate him have decided to do the opposite, arguing that we can’t really see the references to Christianity in the Constitution, but they’re there if only we read between the lines, and notice that the document quotes scripture “verbatim.”
Except, it doesn’t, and legitimate scholars tend to find Barton’s pseudo-history pretty silly.