Top Ten Posts – 2011

To reflect on 2011, I have listed here the ten most popular posts in terms of visits this year. Two of the posts were written in prior years but were visited frequently this year. In addition to being popular, I think they are representative of the stories and issues which I wrote about this year.

1. The Trail of Tears remembered

2. Uganda update: Anti-Homosexuality Bill on tomorrow’s agenda

3. Committee chair says Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill may not be considered

4. What would dominionists do with gays?

5. A major study of child abuse and homosexuality revisited (2009)

6. NARTH is not primarily composed of mental health professionals

7. Only the gay die young: Examining the claims of shorter life expectancy for homosexuals (2007)

8. The evangelical blackout of research on sexual orientation

9. William Penn founded the Quakers and other tall tales from David Barton

10. Was the Jefferson Bible an evangelism tool?

Thomas Jefferson, civil government and religion

David Barton will be coming out with a book called The Jefferson Lies next spring. I noted here that he is skilled at spreading them which will make the book entertaining at the least.

As a service in the effort at offsetting lies about Thomas Jefferson, I thought it might be helpful to point Barton to a letter from Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper. The letter, written on February 10, 1814 sets out Jefferson’s argument that British common law was not influenced by Christianity in any direct manner. Thus, any indirect claim that our law was based on Christianity indirectly via influence from Britain is also suspicious. Barton promotes the notion that American law derives from the Bible. He has also argued that Jefferson did not mean for the state to separate Christianity from the operation of the state.

Jefferson, on the other hand, wrote to Thomas Cooper that Christianity came to Britain after common law was established. Jefferson began his letter,

DEAR SIR, — In my letter of January 16, I promised you a sample from my common-place book, of the pious disposition of the English judges, to connive at the frauds of the clergy, a disposition which has even rendered them faithful allies in practice. When I was a student of the law, now half a century ago, after getting through Coke Littleton, whose matter cannot be abridged, I was in the habit of abridging and common-placing what I read meriting it, and of sometimes mixing my own reflections on the subject. I now enclose you the extract from these entries which I promised. They were written at a time of life when I was bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they led, and bearding every authority which stood in their way. This must be the apology, if you find the conclusions bolder than historical facts and principles will warrant. Accept with them the assurances of my great esteem and respect.

Then, Jefferson included a portion of his writings on the subject from a past effort. He notes that the belief in the Christian influence on British law has been assumed by various writers, but not proven. He says they have all quoted each other as authorities.

Thus we find this string of authorities, when examined to the beginning, all hanging on the same hook, a perverted expression of Prisot’s, or on one another, or nobody. Thus Finch quotes Prisot; Wingate also; Sheppard quotes Prisot, Finch and Wingate; Hale cites nobody; the court in Woolston’s case cite Hale; Wood cites Woolston’s case; Blackstone that and Hale; and Lord Mansfield, like Hale, ventures it on his own authority.

The crux of the matter for Jefferson is that Christianity was not adopted by the British as common law. He wrote:

For we know that the common law is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement in England, and altered from time to time by proper legislative authority from that time to the date of Magna Charta, which terminates the period of the common law, or lex non scripta, and commences that of the statute law, or Lex Scripta. This settlement took place about the middle of the fifth century. But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century; the conversion of the first christian king of the Heptarchy having taken place about the year 598, and that of the last about 686. Here, then, was a space of two hundred years, during which the common law was in existence, and Christianity no part of it. If it ever was adopted, therefore, into the common law, it must have been between the introduction of Christianity and the date of the Magna Charta. But of the laws of this period we have a tolerable collection by Lambard and Wilkins, probably not perfect, but neither very defective; and if any one chooses to build a doctrine on any law of that period, supposed to have been lost, it is incumbent on him to prove it to have existed, and what were its contents. These were so far alterations of the common law, and became themselves a part of it. But none of these adopt Christianity as a part of the common law. If, therefore, from the settlement of the Saxons to the introduction of Christianity among them, that system of religion could not be a part of the common law, because they were not yet Christians, and if, having their laws from that period to the close of the common law, we are all able to find among them no such act of adoption, we may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law. Another cogent proof of this truth is drawn from the silence of certain writers on the common law. Bracton gives us a very complete and scientific treatise of the whole body of the common law. He wrote this about the close of the reign of Henry III., a very few years after the date of the Magna Charta. We consider this book as the more valuable, as it was written about fore gives us the former in its ultimate state. Bracton, too, was an ecclesiastic, and would certainly not have failed to inform us of the adoption of Christianity as a part of the common law, had any such adoption ever taken place. (my emphasis)

Then Jefferson ends his argument by noting that Exodus was meant for the Jews and the teachings of Jesus were meant to be followed as conscience dictated not by coercion of the state.

In truth, the alliance between Church and State in England has ever made their judges accomplices in the frauds of the clergy; and even bolder than they are. For instead of being contented with these four surreptitious chapters of Exodus, they have taken the whole leap, and declared at once that the whole Bible and Testament in a lump, make a part of the common law; ante 873: the first judicial declaration of which was by this same Sir Matthew Hale. And thus they incorporate into the English code laws made for the Jews alone, and the precepts of the gospel, intended by their benevolent author as obligatory only in foro concientiae; and they arm the whole with the coercions of municipal law. In doing this, too, they have not even used the Connecticut caution of declaring, as is done in their blue laws, that the laws of God shall be the laws of their land, except where their own contradict them; but they swallow the yea and nay together. Finally, in answer to Fortescue Aland’s question why the ten commandments should not now be a part of the common law of England? we may say they are not because they never were made so by legislative authority, the document which has imposed that doubt on him being a manifest forgery.

Note at the end that he denies that the 10 Commandments were ever a part of the common law of England. As for America, one cannot read this letter and think that Jefferson supported the concept, popular among proponents of a Christian America, that the “laws of God shall be the laws of their land.”

David Barton promotes The Jefferson Lies

In an email to supporters, David Barton discloses the title of his upcoming book on Thomas Jefferson — The Jefferson Lies.

 
Barton is well qualified to speak about distortions of Jefferson’s work and beliefs since he has spread so many of them. I wonder if he will recant any of them in this book. He could start here, here, here, here, here, here, and/or here.
I am actually glad to see this. Publishing a book on Jefferson via a major publisher could provide the trigger for a broad conversation about Barton’s historical revisions. Perhaps, historians, including those that teach at other Christian institutions, will rise up en masse in response. I can imagine that we will see scathing book reviews in various religious publications which might wake up some Christians.
For more on David Barton, see this link.

Were Unitarians Evangelical?

David Barton told Liberty University students in their September 9 chapel that Unitarians were at one time “a very evangelical Christian denomination.” In his effort to define what he called modernism, he said this about the Unitarians the late 18th and early 19th century:

And the example of that is what happens when you look at Universalist Unitarians; certainly not a denomination that conforms to biblical truth in any way but as it turns out, we have a number of Founding Fathers  who were Unitarians. So we say, oh wait, there’s no way the Founding Fathers could have been Christians; they were Unitarians. Well, unless you know what a Unitarian was in 1784 and what happened to Unitarians in 1819 and 1838 and unless you recognize they used to be a very evangelical Christian denomination, we look at what they are today and say the Founding Fathers were Unitarians, and say, there’s no way they were Christians. That’s modernism; that’s not accurate; that’s not true.

Barton is correct that one cannot judge Unitarians then by the beliefs of Unitarian Universalists now. I don’t know if any serious historian does that, but if so, it would be misleading. However, Mr. Barton did not stop with that claim. He added that Unitarianism during the Founding era was a “very evangelical Christian denomination.”
Researching this claim, I came across a well-written post by Jon Rowe. Rowe describes himself as “a libertarian lawyer and college professor” who writes on issues relating politics and religion. In 2007, Rowe provided a nice outline of the unitarian thought among the Founders. Here are some snippets:

The term “unitarian” has to be qualified because it is associated with a particular Church of which only John Adams (and his son) were members. And even with Adams’ Church, though it preached unitarianism as of 1750, it didn’t officially become “Unitarian” until the 19th Century. Jefferson, Madison, and Washington were all theological unitarians who were formally members of the Anglican/Episcopal Church, which held to a Trinitarian creed. Besides theological unitarianism, these Founders also believed in theological universalism, syncretism, rationalism. So if we want a common term to describe the religious beliefs of the 5 key founders — the first four presidents and Ben Franklin — “proto-unitarian” might do, as well as some others, for instance “theistic rationalism.”

I like either of those terms. Either way you cut it, however, the Founders in question were not evangelicals, nor was Unitarianism “a very evangelical Christian denomination.” Speaking about key Founders, Rowe writes:

The most common sense explanation for why Washington didn’t commune was that he disbelieved in what it represented: Christ’s Atonement. And logic also dictates if one doesn’t believe in the Atonement, one also doesn’t believe in the Trinity and Incarnation. And one need not be a “strict Deist” to disbelieve in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement. Indeed, the other key Founders — Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and Madison — following Joseph Priestly believed in this system of “pro-unitarianism” that denied the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement, yet still believed in an active personal God, prayer, the legitimacy of some revelation, and often presented itself under the label of “Christianity,” not “Deism.”

Barton, in his speech to the Liberty students identified Jared Sparks as a contemporary who testified to Washington’s Christianity. But guess what? Sparks was a Unitarian. At that time, one could be a Unitarian and considered a Christian, especially by other Unitarians. However, Unitarians were not orthodox and by any definition of evangelicalism, can’t be considered evangelical. Rowe explains further:

So it was not just the “strict Deists” in the Trinitarian Churches who refused to commune, but also the “unitarians” some of who, like Marshall could be quite “biblical,” believing in the “Christian Revelation,” others like Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams, rationalists who elevated reason over revelation. And because this “unitarianism” often presented itself under the auspices of “Christianity,” key contemporaneous testimony that Washington and other Founders were “Christians” is not inconsistent with the notion that they were such “proto-unitarians.” Indeed, John Marshall himself was one such testifier of Washington’s Christianity as was Jared Sparks. And both were “unitarians” who disbelieved in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement, but still understood themselves to be “Christians.” In all likelihood, so was George Washington.

I urge you to read the entire post and check out Rowe’s blog.

David Barton: Did Early Presidents Sign Documents "In the Year of Our Lord Christ?"

On September 9, David Barton spoke to students at Liberty University during their chapel service. Last week I addressed several claims Barton made during the first five minutes of his talk. Today, I want to follow up with more detail about Barton’s claim that Thomas Jefferson and other early Presidents signed official presidential documents with the closing “In the year of our Lord Christ.” Barton points to this phrase as evidence that the early Presidents “had Jesus Christ in the center of what they did.”
Earlier this year, I demonstrated that a document on the Wallbuilders website dated 1807 and signed by Thomas Jefferson is a passport, also called a sea letter, needed by ships at the time to indicate that they were no threat to friend or foe as a combat ship. The wording of the sea letter signed by Jefferson was required by a treaty with Holland. Sea letters were in common use, so much so that Congress authorized the printing of a form for this use with the treaty language preprinted. The language specified in the treaty with Holland included the phrase, “In the year of our Lord Christ” and only required the person completing the form to include information about the ship, the cargo, the destination and the correct date.
This was a perfunctory duty of the President at the time, causing John Adams to lament to his wife Abigail in a letter that his fate was to sign “Thousands of sea letters, Mediterranean passes, and commissions and patents to sign; no company — no society.”
Thomas Jefferson was once asked about the proper use of a sea letter by Secretary of Treasury Albert Gallatin. In his January 26, 1805 reply, it is clear that the document is not something he or the Congress developed, saying

The question arising on Mr. Simons’ letter of January 10th is whether sea-letters shall be given to the vessels of citizens neither born nor residing in the United States. Sea-letters are the creatures of treaties. No act of the ordinary legislature requires them. The only treaties now existing with us, and calling for them, are those with Holland, Spain, Prussia, and France. In the two former we have stipulated that when the other party shall be at war, the vessels belonging to our people shall be furnished with sea-letters; in the two latter that the vessels of the neutral party shall be so furnished. France being now at war, the sea-letter is made necessary for our vessels; and consequently it is our duty to furnish them.  (my emphasis)

If you search through the Annals of Congress (1774-1875), you will find 8 citations with the exact phrase, “in the year of our Lord Christ.” All of them are used in a treaty (Holland, Morocco, Japan). The exact form for the sea letter is specified as required by the treaty with Holland. Here is the text from Annals:

The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Volume 2
Form of the Passport to be given to Ships or Vessels, conformable to the Thirtieth Article of this Treaty.*

[Note *: * MSS. Dep. of State.]
February 6, 1778.
To all who shall see these presents, greeting:
Be it known that leave and permission are hereby given to A. B., master and commander of the ship or vessel called –, of the (city, town, etc.), of –, burden –, tons or thereabouts, lying at present in the port or haven of –, bound for –, and laden with –, to depart and proceed with his said ship (or vessel) on the said voyage; such ship (or vessel) having been visited and the said master and commander having made oath before the proper officer that the said ship (or vessel) belongs to one (or more) of the subjects, people, or inhabitants of –, and to him (or them) only.
In witness whereof we have subscribed our names to these presents and affixed the seal of our arms thereto, and caused the same to be countersigned by –, at –, this –day of –, in the year of our Lord Christ –.

 
I have found additional sea letters with the phrase “in the year of our Lord Christ” pre-printed. These are similar to the images signed by John Adams and James Madison which Barton presented at Liberty. Click this link to see an entire document with all four languages (Dutch, English, French and Spanish). Then see below for two closer views:

 

Adams, Madison and every other President signed these forms on behalf of countless vessels sailing into foreign waters. That Presidents signed their names to form letters with language required by treaty is simply not an indicator of some special recognition of Christ. Although the Americans were not antagonistic to including this diplomatic language in their treaties, they were not breaking new religious or political ground. As I noted in the prior post, other nations, including France and Holland, used this language long before the United States did as a new nation.
I suppose if you don’t take into account that the various treaties specified the exact language to be used, and you aren’t aware that Jefferson said sea letters are “the creatures of treaties,” then one might believe that Jefferson and early Presidents wanted to bring Christ into the important business of shipping passports.
I should add that I don’t claim to be a historian. Rather, I am taking the suggestion Mr. Barton made to Liberty University students. He told them in his speech not to take things for granted. He said go back to the original documents and explore the facts for yourself. Having done that, I disagree with Mr. Barton. In no reasonable use of the language can it be said that the early presidents signed presidential acts with the designation “in the year of our Lord Christ.”
For other posts examining similar claims, see this link.

William Penn founded the Quakers and other tall tales from David Barton

As the Gipper used to say, “there you go again…”
David Barton spoke at Liberty University on September 9 and said that William Penn founded the Quakers, the early Unitarians were an evangelical denomination and Thomas Jefferson signed presidential documents “In the Year of Our Lord Christ.” That was just for starters.
At about two minutes into his speech (click the link and look for Barton on Sept. 9; you can also hear it at iTunes here), Barton said

We have the same thing when you look at Quakers. You see Quakers were founded by William Penn in Pennsylvania. I’ll lay you odds there’s no chance that William Penn would be a Quaker today, even in the denomination he founded, he would not be a part of. We look at it the way it is today and say it must have been the way they were back then.
And the example of that is what happens when you look at Universalist Unitarians; certainly not a denomination that conforms to biblical truth in any way but as it turns out, we have a number of Founding Fathers  who were Unitarians. So we say, oh wait, there’s no way the Founding Fathers could have been Christians; they were Unitarians. Well, unless you know what a Unitarian was in 1784 and what happened to Unitarians in 1819 and 1838 and unless you recognize they used to be a very evangelical Christian denomination, we look at what they are today and say the Founding Fathers were Unitarians, and say, there’s no way they were Christians. That’s modernism; that’s not accurate; that’s not true.

First of all, George Fox founded the Quakers and Penn later joined the movement. Penn was born in 1644 and Fox founded the Religious Society of Friends around 1647. Penn founded Pennsylvania but not the Quakers. Given the teachings of the Quakers, I suspect Penn might indeed be a Quaker today.
I wrote about the Unitarians in a post about John Adams and the Trinity. According the Unitarian historian Holley Ulbrichs, author of The Fellowship Movement, and member of the Universalist Unitarian church, Unitarians never believed in the Trinity and thus could not be considered evangelical. Ulbrichs told me in an email:

In 1819 William Ellery Channing preached a famous sermon in Baltimore at the ordination of Rev. Jared Sparks. The title of his sermon was “Unitarian Christianity.”  That brought to a head an ongoing battle between the religious liberals and the religious conservatives in the Congregational Church, of which John Adams was a member, but on the liberal side.  The American Unitarian Conference, later Association, came into being in 1825, a year before his death (and Thomas Jefferson’s), but both of them were very sympathetic to the anti-Trinitarian views that were at the heart of the controversy.
Unitarians were never okay with the trinity. Hence the name. Most of them like Jesus, but as a prophet, a role model, a nonviolent revolutionary. Not God.

Congregationalists were traditional in their beliefs but the Unitarians split from them. Adams and Jefferson were members of other denominations but it is clear from their correspondence that they favored the Anti-Trinitarian view.
Then finally for this post, Barton again asserts that Thomas Jefferson signed presidential documents – “In the Year of Our Lord Christ” during his speech to the Liberty students. He showed on the overhead a small portion of a document which is apparently referred to on his website as “his presidential act of October 18, 1804.”
It is unfortunate that Barton does not show the entire document so we can see what kind of “presidential act” it was. If you look closely at the picture, you can see that the words “In the year of our Lord Christ” are pre-printed on the page and not in Jefferson’s handwriting.

Barton has a similar document dated 1807 on his website. As I noted in this post, the words “In the year of our Lord Christ” were required by treaty with Holland and pre-printed on a form which was used for sea letters (a kind of passport allowing safe passage) and not written by Jefferson. I can’t find any other reference to Jefferson actually signing documents in this manner. Please see this post for an extensive refutation of the claim about the 1807 document.
This is just within the first 5 minutes.
 

David Barton on America's Founders (Video)

I posted a transcript of a speech by David Barton and broadcast last week by Focus on the Family. I did not know it at the time but the speech is not a new one. Perhaps he is still delivering the same one he did 4 years ago. I found video of that speech on Google and here it is:

This is a little over an hour long. The transcript referred to by Focus fits right along with this speech.
Barton confuses me at times. He said in a radio message that Jefferson said he was a Christian and looked like a “Bible thumping evangelical.” Here in this speech, he admits that Jefferson was not a Christian.

Now I will quickly acknowledge that neither Jefferson, nor Franklin, neither one of these two guys right here is a Christian. Now Jefferson’s gonna fight me on this, because in his own writings on several occasions he says, “I am a Christian; I am a true Christian; I am a true follower of Jesus.” I’ve got to disagree with him, because, you see, by any orthodox definition, he doesn’t fit.
Now he thought that Jesus was a great prophet sent by God, just like Moses or David or Samuel. And you better pay attention to the teachings of Jesus, just like any other prophet. But was Jesus divine? Oh no, He wasn’t divine. He wasn’t the Son of God or the Savior of the world. So, by an orthodox definition, despite what Jefferson calls himself, I’ve got to say that today we would not qualify his definition as Christian. So, let’s say that Jefferson and Franklin are not Christians. Beyond those two, you prove to me that anyone else up on that screen is not a Christian, much less that he’s an atheist or an agnostic or a deist and you [sic] got your work cut out for you.

Barton is quite defensive of the idea that John Adams was an evangelical. Given Adams’ rejection of the Trinity and his horror at the thought of Jesus dying for the sins of the world, I would not be able to call him an evangelical.

David Barton on John Adams – The Holy Ghost letter

During his appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, David Barton claimed that John Adams believed in the Trinity and avoided discussing the meaning of John Adams letter to Benjamin Rush where Adams invokes the Holy Ghost. Last week, I noted that John Adams denied the Trinity in correspondence to Thomas Jefferson, who also denied it. In this post, I take up the letter from John Adams to Benjamin Rush where Adams discusses the Holy Ghost. On the Daily Show, Jon Stewart read a portion of the letter to Barton which referred to the Holy Ghost. The transcript of that segment is below. Elsewhere, Barton has written that the Holy Ghost letter is in some way related to Benjamin Rush’s effort to reconcile Adams and Jefferson. This post refers to what Adams was really saying in his letter to Rush and the next post takes up the reconciliation between Adams and Jefferson.
Here again is a transcript of the exchange between between Barton and Stewart where Barton makes his claims:

Stewart: Do you think people would be more comfortable with you if they felt like you were consistently looking to extend historical context and — because there are a lot of critics out there who say you cherry-pick your religious facts, take them out of context — your historical facts — to use them to bolster your argument.
Barton: They’ve never proven that. They’ve claimed that. Show me some documentation where it’s taken out of context. They’ve never provided that. They complain about it.
Stewart: Didn’t they say the John Adams quote, where you talk about, he says, “We were inspired by Divinity.”
Barton: No, I don’t recall him saying that. Have you got the quote?
Stewart: Yeah, let me see if I can find it. [consults notes] Okay, here it is. Here is what you wrote in your book about what Adams said, endorsing the Church being involved in the State: “The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this earth. Not a baptism, not a marriage, not a sacrament can be administered, but by the Holy Ghost, who is transmitted from age to age by laying the hands of the bishop upon the heads of candidates for the ministry. […] There is no authority, civil or religious; there can be no legitimate government, but what is administered by the Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it; all without it is rebellion and perdition, or in more orthodox words, damnation.” That’s the quote that you used in your book.
Barton: Now, I have the original John Adams letter with me off the set. I brought the original. See, I posted that online; how can I misquote it when I put the whole thing up there. That’s the only John Adams letter in the world that he wrote on that day to that person, and that’s what’s in it. I posted that where everybody can see it, and that’s what we do with our documents.
Stewart: But you have then the sentence after the one, which is: “Although this is all artifice and cunning —”
Barton: Oh, the entire letter is posted. The entire letter is posted.
Stewart: But you can see that the next sentence shows that he’s being sarcastic in that passage.
Barton: Not in — no, not at all. You read the entire letter, Jon — now, see, they’ve given you their critique of it.
Stewart: But how could he say the Holy Ghost — I mean, this man was a Unitarian; why would he claim the Holy Ghost sincerely?
Barton: You know what a Unitarian was then?
Stewart: Yeah, someone who didn’t believe in the Trinity.
Barton: No, no. Not until 1839, long after his death. It did not become —
Stewart: So John Adams believed in the Holy Ghost?
Barton: He believed in the Trinity, and that’s where Unitarian —

David Barton does indeed have the original letter from John Adams to Benjamin Rush in his collection and has a picture of it on his website. Stewart asserts that Adams’ use of the terms “artifice and cunning” was sarcasm toward the belief that the Holy Ghost sets up governmental and religious authorities. Barton said Stewart was wrong. However, Stewart did not press Barton to say what he thought Adams meant. Too bad, because I would like to hear Barton’s explaination of Adams’ statements in context.
This letter is important to Barton. In a related article, Barton claims that Adams references to the Holy Ghost were in some way a reply to Benjamin Rush’s wish that Adams and Thomas Jefferson would reconcile their differences. An examination of the series of letters in 1809 makes this assertion very unlikely.
This issue has been visited in depth by Chris Rodda (this video, this article, and then her book – now free on her website– are must reads) and then lately by Messiah College historian John Fea (this post and his book are also must reads). In addition to consulting these resources, I also looked at the original sources myself. In short, Barton has taken correspondence between John Adams and Benjamin Rush, and selectively quoted from those letters to create a fiction, one which he repeated on Jon Stewart’s program. This post provides evidence to contradict Barton’s claims.
To understand the various claims about Adams, Rush and the Holy Ghost, one must read the relevant series of letters between Adams and Rush. Three of these letters are easily available on the internet; the other one, from Rush to Adams dated December 5, 1809, I reproduce below. Rush and Adams were good friends and exchanged warm and friendly correspondence often. In his letter to Adams on October 17, 1809, Rush used the device of a dream to express his wish that Adams and Thomas Jefferson would again resume communications. Read all four letters here.
Continue reading “David Barton on John Adams – The Holy Ghost letter”

David Barton on Thomas Jefferson – Did Jefferson approve church in the Capitol?

 
UPDATE: For more information about Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President, go to GettingJeffersonRight.com.
David Barton claims that Thomas Jefferson approved the use of the Capitol building as a church in 1800. On his April 11 podcast, Barton claimed that Jefferson was so religious that he would look like a “Bible thumping  evangelical” with the following example given as evidence:

And I’ll give you a great example. We moved into the US Capitol in 1800, November of 1800. And when we moved in, one of the first acts of Congress was to approve the use of the Capitol as a church building. You can find that in the records of Congress, Dec 4 1800. Now, who did that? You had the head of the Senate and the head of the House, the speaker of the House was John Trumbull, the president of the Senate who approved that was Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson approves church in the Capitol? Yep, he went there as Vice President, he went to the church at the Capitol for 8 years as President, and as President of the US, he’s going to church, and this is recorded in all sorts of members of Congress, their records, their diaries, because they went to church at the Capitol too. And so, Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States, thinks, you know I think I can help the worship services at this new church at the Capitol, they met in the Hall of the House of Representatives, so Jefferson ordered the Marine Corp band to come play for the worship services, in the church services at the US Capitol. The worship band is the Marine Corp Band? Pretty good worship band. Thomas Jefferson did that. I thought he wanted separation of church and state. If you read his letter on separation of church and state, he said separation of church and state, he makes it very clear, separation of church and state will keep the government from stopping a public religious activity.

In fact, the records of Congress do note the request for use of the House of Representatives for church services. Here is the entry marking the occasion:

Note that the Speaker informed the assembled representatives that the Chaplains proposed to hold services in the Chamber.  Apparently, it was agreeable to the House of Representatives since there is no recorded objection or vote on the matter. The Senate chaplain was Dr. Thomas John Claggett, an Episcopalian, and the House chaplain was Rev. Thomas Lyell, a Methodist. Both had begun their appointments in November, 1800.
Barton said that John Trumbull was the Speaker of the House but it was Theodore Sedgwick who raised the matter to the House on December 4, 1800. Jefferson was indeed President pro tempore of the Senate. However, according to the records of the Senate that same day (general business and the executive committee), nothing was mentioned about use of the Capitol building as a church.
In fact, the Senate did not need to approve the matter since the request came to the House for their Chamber. I can find no vote, affirmation or acknowledgement by the Senate. Unless Barton can demonstrate otherwise, it is incorrect to say that Thomas Jefferson approved, in some official manner, church services in the Capitol.
Jefferson did indeed attend church in the chamber which is not too surprising given the lack of churches in the District of Columbia at the time, as well as the general lack of social life. About church in DC at the time, Wilhelmus Bogart Bryan wrote in his book, A History of the National Capitol:

It will be noted that the period of 1801-1813 in the case of the churches was one of development and expansion. For at the beginning there were three church organizations, only one of which owned the building which it occupied, while twelve years later there were seven churches and a chapel, all of which owned the buildings which were used for the services. While in most instances the congregations were small in numbers and limited in resources, yet on the whole the church expansion reflected the growth of the community as well as its material condition…

Then Bryan discusses the Capitol church and the social aspects of the events. Bryan describes the Capitol as “a forum” where many religious views were discussed. The event was apparently quite a social happening:

At the same time the speaker’s desk in the hall of the house of representatives Sunday after Sunday was a forum from which was presented a wide range of religious belief. The chaplains of congress officiated there, as did also ministers representing various denominations. Frequently the religious atmosphere was lacking, sometimes due to the audience turning the occasion into a social function and then again to the eccentric character and views of the preachers. Rev. Manasseh Cutler was not pleased with the discourse of Rev. John Leland, who arrived in the city January, 1802, with the mammoth cheese which was presented to President Jefferson. On the following day he officiated at the capitol. The president was in the congregation, as it was his custom to be in the early years of his administration.

Incidentally, John Leland was one of the fiercest proponents of religious freedom and personally lobbied James Madison for a religious liberty clause in the Bill of Rights. The whole thing sounds religious in the general sense but not doctrinaire.
Barton also claims that Jefferson ordered the Marine Band to play in order to aid the worship. I can find no proof of that. If Mr. Barton has documentation of that claim, he should offer it. According to the record of the House and Bryan’s observations, the Chaplains were in charge. I suspect they invited the band to play. Bryan comments about the Marine Band:

It was apparently a new feature of the capitol services when in February, 1805, the Marine Band was stationed in the gallery and “after the preaching . . . the marines . . . played Denmark. Were there next Sunday. Two pieces of psalmody by the band of the marine corps. They attended in their uniforms about eighty or one hundred.”

One of sources of information about Jefferson, the Capitol church forum and the Marine band is a book by Margaret Bayard Smith, wife of a newspaper publisher.  The book is a free ebook via Google and can be read there. I am producing a lengthy section titled Jefferson at Church from her book.

At this time the only place for public worship in our new-city was a small, a very small frame building at the bottom of Capitol-hill. It had been a tobacco-house belonging to Daniel Carrol1 and was purchased by a few Episcopalians for a mere trifle and fitted up as a church in the plainest and rudest manner. During the first winter, Mr. Jefferson regularly attended service on the sabbath-day in the humble church. The congregation seldom exceeded 50 or 60, but generally consisted of about a score of hearers. He could have had no motive for this regular attendance, but that of respect for public worship, choice of place or preacher he had not, as this, with the exception of a little Catholic chapel was the only church in the new city. The custom of preaching in the Hall of Representatives had not then been attempted, though after it was established Mr. Jefferson during his whole administration, was a most regular attendant. The seat he chose the first sabbath, and the adjoining one, which his private secretary occupied, were ever afterwards by the courtesy of the congregation, left for him and his secretary. I have called these Sunday assemblies in the capitol, a congregation, but the almost exclusive appropriation of that word to religious assemblies, prevents its being a descriptive term as applied in the present case, since the gay company who thronged the H. R. looked very little like a religious assembly. The occasion presented for display was not only a novel, but a favourable one for the youth, beauty and fashion of the city, Georgetown and environs. The members of Congress, gladly gave up their seats for such fair auditors, and either lounged in the lobbies, or round the fire places, or stood beside the ladies of their acquaintance. This sabbath day-resort became so fashionable, that the floor of the house offered insufficient space, the platform behind the Speaker’s chair, and every spot where a chair could be wedged in was crowded with ladies in their gayest costume and their attendant beaux and who led them to their seats with the same gallantry as is exhibited in a ball room. Smiles, nods, whispers, nay sometimes tittering marked their recognition of each other, and beguiled the tedium of the service. Often, when cold, a lady would leave her seat and led by her attending beau would make her way through the crowd to one of the fire-places where she could laugh and talk at her ease. One of the officers of the house, followed by his attendant with a great bag over his shoulder, precisely at 12 o’clock, would make his way through the hall to the depository of letters to put them in the mail-bag, which sometimes had a most ludicrous effect, and always diverted attention from the preacher. The musick was as little in union with devotional feelings, as the place. The marine-band, were the performers. Their scarlet uniform, their various instruments, made quite a dazzling appearance in the gallery. The marches they played were good and inspiring, but in their attempts to accompany the psalm-singing of the congregation, they completely failed and after a while, the practice was discontinued,—it was too ridiculous.

So Jefferson and the Marine Band were in the same church services. The Marine Band did play, but  there is no evidence that he ordered the Marine Band to play. Jefferson attended the services but there is no evidence that he approved them officially. If anything, it sounds like they were ecumenical events with all sects and groups allowed to speak.
This is a situation which generally supports the idea that religion in some general sense was supported by the politicians of the time. It seems unnecessary for Barton to embellish the narrative.
I should hasten to add that I would be happy to issue a correction if Mr. Barton or any reader has evidence that Jefferson had some role in approving the services or ordering the Marine band to play.
Previously:
David Barton on Thomas Jefferson – Gnadenhutten and the Christian Indians
David Barton on Thomas Jefferson – United Brethren and the Christian Indians
David Barton on Thomas Jefferson – In the Year of Our Lord Christ
David Barton on Thomas Jefferson: The Kaskaskia Indians
Was the Jefferson Bible an evangelism tool?
More on Thomas Jefferson and Christianity
David Barton: Pluralism not the goal of the First Amendment
Related:
Did the First Amendment Create a Christian Nation?

David Barton on Thomas Jefferson – Gnadenhutten and the Christian Indians

Last Thursday, I wrote about my appearance on the Paul Edwards radio show, just after David Barton was on to respond to my series on Thomas Jefferson. During his time, Barton claimed that Thomas Jefferson signed an act three times “to propagate the gospel among the heathen.” Here are Barton’s exact words:

The actual quote out of all three acts was “to propagate the gospel among the heathen.” Now, when you take the context of those three federal acts, and you know, you can check the acts, March 3rd, 1803, March 19, 1805, I can give you the dates, you can look them all up and read it. It says, ‘for propagating the gospel among the heathen.’ Now this is not a territory exchange, by the way, and even if it were, let’s say the United States today makes some kind of territory exchange with the Cherokee tribe in North Carolina, or Oklahoma, what do you think happens if the federal government puts in money to pay a Catholic priest, or to build a Catholic church, even if that’s what the Cherokees want?

I demonstrated on Thursday that Congress, on June 1, 1796, provided land to Christian converts from among the Delaware tribe via a trust to a group called “The Society of United Brethren for Propagating the Gospel Among the Heathen.” Just to be clear, here is an image of the title of the bill:

Note the the 1796 bill, enacted when George Washington was President, was titled, “An Act regulating the grants of land appropriated for Military services, and for the Society of the United Brethren, for propagating the Gospel among the Heathen.” (Click the link to see the entire Act). Over a decade after the Delaware converts and the Brethren missionaries had been displaced to Northern Ohio, the Congress made arrangements for the Society of Brethren to take trust of the land on behalf of the Christian Indians. As the language of the Act makes clear the phrase “propagating the gospel among the heathen” was a part of the legal name of the responsible  organization.

As I noted last Thursday, Jefferson later renewed the act for the purposes of providing new law relating to military lands, with nothing new regarding the Brethren or the Christian Indians. The Society’s name remained in the title of the Act, which is apparently where  David Barton comes up with his claims about Jefferson.  Once the original act was signed by Washington, the Brethren went to work trying to rebuild the mission in Eastern Ohio. Eventually, the Society ceded the land back to the federal government because the converts did not return in sufficient numbers to make the mission viable.
The narrative developed by Barton is misleading and obscures the situation. All Jefferson did was approve bills that had a religious society’s name attached to the title.
I am reviewing this again because I continue to be bothered by Barton’s appropriation of this story as evidence for his view of Christian America. This bothers me for at least two reasons. First, he does an injustice to the historical record which includes the initial Northern relocation of peaceful elements of the Delaware tribe, and the massacre at Gnadenhutten. The Christian converts were marched to Northern Ohio and left there without provisions. Then when a group returned to Gnadenhutten to find food, they were brutally killed by the Pennsylvania Militia. The Society of the Brethren had to constantly bring the horrible treatment suffered by the native people to the attention of the “Christian nation” in order for even the most basic of response, years later. Barton’s narrative misrepresents the role of federal government and minimizes the Gnadenhutten atrocity.
Second, Barton complained on the Paul Edwards program that liberals would protest if the federal government today used funds for religious purposes with Native Americans, apparently oblivious to the fact that the federal government pushed Christianity on Native American tribes until early in the 20th century. Native children were removed from their families in elementary school and sent away to boarding schools, sometimes run by church groups. They were forbidden to speak their language or follow native customs. Some recall harsh punishments if the rules were violated.  Even Christian Native Americans say that the treatment was demeaning. By using the treatment of Native Americans as evidence for his vision of Christian America, Barton inadvertently demonstrates at least one peril of his construction.
Next: Did Jefferson authorize the Capitol for church services and/or order the Marine Band to act as a worship band?
Previously:
David Barton on Thomas Jefferson – United Brethren and the Christian Indians
David Barton on Thomas Jefferson – In the Year of Our Lord Christ
David Barton on Thomas Jefferson: The Kaskaskia Indians
Was the Jefferson Bible an evangelism tool?
More on Thomas Jefferson and Christianity
David Barton: Pluralism not the goal of the First Amendment
Related:
Did the First Amendment Create a Christian Nation?