Introduction: Newt Gingrich's ties to the religious right go to back to the 1980s, and the Former Speaker of the House has worked hard to line up evangelical backing in advance of the 2012 election. As detailed in a February 27, 2012 article in The Nation, Gingrich has cultivated leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation, who shifted support from Rick Perry, as the Texas governor's presidential bid faltered, to Gingrich, whose Faith Leaders Coalition features several NAR leaders, including some with unabashed dominionist agendas, and controversial approaches to faith healing.
But presidential candidate Rick Santorum has NAR leadership support too and, in a general election, if he prevails against Gingrich and Romney, it is likely that the Champion The Vote voter registration initiative -- which is financially backed by one of the NAR's "marketplace apostles", as well as factually challenged narratives of the once and future American Christian nation promoted by history revisionist David Barton -- will be deployed for the Santorum campaign.
There are no explicit references to God or Christianity in the U.S. Constitution, the foundational document for American government. But in advance of the 2012 election, a well-funded voter registration initiative called Champion The Vote, which seeks to register 5 million conservative Christian "biblical values" voters before the November vote, is distributing a 2-hour video, "One Nation Under God", that claims key concepts in the United States Constitution are based on scriptures from books in the Old Testament of the Bible, including Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
Starring in the video? -- Newt Gingrich, the only 2012 presidential election candidate featured in "One Nation Under God." The Gingrich footage in the video was taken last October, while media attention was still fixated on now-withdrawn candidate Rick Perry, then touted as the alleged conservative evangelical favorite.
[below: excerpts from Champion The Vote's "One Nation Under God" video]
On October 20-21, 2011, Gingrich spoke before hundreds of gathered Florida pastors at a secretive, closed-to-the-media meeting held in an Orlando hotel, at which the former House Speaker told the clergy that "half of what is taught in American colleges and universities is false" and that "the academic left... is determined to propagandize our children."
Rick Perry, the other presidential candidate to address the Orlando pastors gathering, gave a speech by telescreen. Footage of Perry's speech was not included in "One Nation Under God." But footage of former Vice Chair of the Texas GOP and close Gingrich ally David Barton, another major speaker at the October Orlando pastors event, was featured in the video.
In his talk Barton, who claimed that ideas expressed in the Constitution came from scriptures in Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and other books of the Old Testament, told his audience,
"Strikingly, if you look through that document, it is amazing how many Biblical clauses appear in Constitutional clauses. Biblical verses and phrases -- you'll find them throughout -- so many concepts, the founding fathers pointed to bible verses as the source of those concepts."
Barton's speech was accompanied by Powerpoint slides showing the pairing of important clauses in the Constitution with their alleged sources in scripture from the Bible's books of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezra, Exodus, Deuteronomy and Leviticus.
The Book of Leviticus prescribes stoning as a capital punishment for a range of transgressions including blasphemy and cursing, witchcraft, homosexuality, and adultery -- a crime to which Newt Gingrich has himself confessed, in a March 2007 radio show appearance with Focus on The Family founder James Dobson.
Unlike Barton, mainstream historians do not credit the Bible as having been a direct source of conceptual inspiration for the Constitution.
David Barton, who serves as a co-Director of the Gingrich-founded Renewing American Leadership 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to "preserve America's Judeo-Christian heritage", also informed pastors at the Orlando gathering that the authors of the Constitution "gave us the First Amendment, not because it guarantees separation of church and state - there's no such thing".
Among Barton's other claims was the statement that "more than half the guys who signed the Declaration [of Independence] were ministry trained guys". But only four of the signers Barton cites went to school to study theology, and only two of those went on to become ministers.
In his speech at the Orlando event, Gingrich declared,
"half of what is taught in American colleges and universities is false, it is a lie and I think we ought to take it head on... I'm talking about the academic left, which dominates American history, dominates American social studies, and is determined to propagandize our children with values and ideas alien to the American tradition and alien to American civilization."
One of the centerpieces of the Gingrich plan to combat the alleged threat is a document to be found at www.newt.org, a draft of a proposed "Presidential Commission on Religious Freedom" that Gingrich promises to create if elected president, to help beat back the purported secularist and atheist assault on religious speech.
On page 8, Gingrich's draft document showcases a quote often incorrectly attributed to Patrick Henry, "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ!"
According to Americans United For the Separation of Church and State researcher Rob Boston, the Patrick Henry quote cited in Gingrich's draft was one of nine quotes incorrectly attributed to America's Founding Fathers that Barton featured in his 1989 book The Myth of Separation, to demonstrate their Christian faith and supposed intent to establish a Christian nation. Barton now identifies the quotes as "unconfirmed".
Gingrich has pledged to seek Barton's advice during his 2012 presidential campaign.
David Barton has been publicly identified by author Chris Rodda as a "liar for Jesus" and was recently the subject of an extensive report from the liberal nonprofit People For The American Way, which lambastes Barton for "sloppy scholarship" and outlines his notable political positions -- that include a claim the environment is self-regulating because of "divine provenance" and an assertion Jesus was opposed to the minimum wage.
Founding Father misquotes promoted by David Barton have been recited on the floor of the U.S. Senate and have appeared on the printed program of the National Prayer Breakfast, and Barton's interpretation of church-state separation has also found its way into civics textbooks used by the national Junior ROTC program.
In 2007, a poll conducted by the Center For First Amendment studies revealed that 65 percent of Americans believe the founders intended America to be a Christian nation, and 55 percent thought the Constitution established the United States as a Christian nation as well.
Newt and the Religious Right
While some commentators have missed Newt Gingrich's ties, the reality is that the former Speaker of the House, who led the stealth Republican takeover of the House and Senate in the 1994 election, has been a strong partisan of the religious right for decades.
Newt has not always cloaked himself in Christian piety and nationalism. In an interview for a 1984 profile of Gingrich published in Mother Jones magazine, Lee Howell, Gingrich's former press secretary and speechwriter, recalled,
"In 1974 I wrote this speech for his opening night kick-off. I come from a Southern Protestant background, and Southern Protestants quote the Bible. Newt had me take out all the references to God, because he was not very religious -- and isn't very religious. He went to church in order to get a nap on Sunday morning. He became a beacon because of who he was, not what he believed. He did not like us to use God in his speeches; he didn't want people to think he was using God, because he said that would be hypocritical. He said, 'I'm not a very strong believer.'"
But following the 1979 launch of the Moral Majority, and other subsequent efforts to mobilize the evangelical right as a political force, Newt found God -- as a political tool at least.
In 1985 Gingrich, as described in a story from the Institute For First Amendment Studies, gave a keynote speech at the Reverend Tim LaHaye's Washington DC "How To Win An Election" conference, held by LaHaye's American Coalition for Traditional Values (ACTV) -- along with seminal architects of the American religious right political movement such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Tim LaHaye, D. James Kennedy, and Paul Weyrich. The conference featured the slogan "Serve the Lord by running for public office", emphasized that Christians have a "Biblical mandate" to become involved in politics.
[below: flyer for 1985 ACTV "How To Win An Election" conference]
The politicized evangelical right has come a long way over the past two and a half decades. Democratic strategist Rob Stein recently told liberal donors, according to the Los Angeles Times, "The Christian activist right is the largest, best-organized and, I believe, the most powerful force in American politics today." Emphasized Stein, "No other political group comes even close."
Now in his 50s, David Barton is one of a younger generation of Christian right leaders coming to the forefront as the older generation of leaders retires and dies off. Named one of the "25 most influential evangelists" in America by Time Magazine in 2005, Barton has launched an entire cottage industry of books and videos purporting to demonstrate America's Christian heritage and, since the late 1980's, has been on an almost perpetual tour of the United States--speaking in churches and other venues to promote his factually challenged interpretation of American history.
Used as textbooks widely across the growing Christian homeschooling movement, at private Christian schools, and at some of the nation's biggest and most influential evangelical universities, Barton's books claim the United States was founded as an expressly Christian nation, present church-state separation as a myth, and paint America's founding fathers as pious forerunners of contemporary conservative evangelical leadership.
During his speech to the Orlando pastors, Barton told his audience,
"Now, after you get the Constitution done, you got the first congress, now you need a Bill of Rights. And so we come back with the Bill of Rights -- those first ten amendments to the Constitution... they gave us the First Amendment, not because it guarantees separation of church and state -- there's no such thing -- it guarantees the free exercise of religion. They weren't trying to secularize the public square. They wanted to make sure that you could include God in those areas... Now, we don't teach that much in history anymore, but the documents are really clear."
Echoing Barton's claims during his Orlando speech, Gingrich fulminated,
"It is a lie to teach American history as though this is a secular nation in which God did not reappear, again and again and again for every generation...
Frankly, we should be very direct about this fight. I, for one, am tired of the long trend towards a secular, atheist system of thought dominating our colleges, dominating our media."
The Orlando gathering was organized by David Barton and California pastor David Lane, who began staging pastor meetings in California and Texas during the 1990s. Dubbed a "Pastor's Policy Briefing", it was one in a long line of similar events held over the last decade sponsored by ad-hoc state efforts called "renewal projects" aimed at politically mobilizing pastors and increasing conservative evangelical voter turnout.
Barton's Christian nationalist history revisionism is typically the centerpiece of such pastors briefings, and at a March 24-25, 2011 Pastor's Policy Briefing also sponsored by Champion the Vote and organized by Lane, Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee introduced David Barton by quipping that he wished every American citizen could be forcibly indoctrinated with Barton's history, at gunpoint if necessary.
These briefings also feature politically polarizing themes -- such as the need to oppose same-sex marriage and end legalized abortion, and combat an alleged secular assault on Christianity. The latter is often couched within a wider narrative structure that depicts evangelical Christians as unwilling combatants in a war against liberals and Democratic politicians, unnamed humanists, atheists and secularists, and militant Islam.
In a late 2010 fundraising letter for Newt Gingrich's Renewing American Leadership (ReAL) nonprofit, Mike Huckabee, the conservative evangelical insurgent favorite against John McCain in the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, warned recipients of terrible, looming threats against America and its people:
"Should we be surprised that -- after 50 years of driving God from our schools, our history and our public lives -- America is facing some of the most devastating crises we have ever faced...
...an economy (driven by socialist schemes) on the brink of collapse, the threat of violent death by radical Islamic terrorists that grows every day, crime, abortions and drug use more rampant than ever?"
"If you fully believe as Newt Gingrich and I do, that the Founding Fathers fully intended for expressions of religious belief to be incorporated into American life, then I ask you to join in the fight to defend our values.
The stakes are immense; imagine a crippled, socialist, bleak, anti-God America. Is this the nation we want to bequeath to our children, or will you stand with me and Newt Gingrich and fight to preserve America as that "shining city on a hill, one nation, under God?"
Any support you can send to ReAL today is tax-deductible.
And as a personal "thank you" for your gift of $35 or more today, I will send you a copy of Newt's wonderful book Rediscovering God in America."
Why do Huckabee, Gingrich, Barton, and other leaders on the Christian right promote such ideas? As author and journalist Frederick Clarkson explained, in a 2007 Public Eye Magazine analysis, History is Powerful -- Why the Christian Right Distorts History and Why it Matters,
The notion that America was founded as a Christian nation is a central animating element of the ideology of the Christian Right. It touches every aspect of life and culture in this, one of the most successful and powerful political movements in American history. The idea that America's supposed Christian identity has somehow been wrongly taken, and must somehow be restored, permeates the psychology and vision of the entire movement. No understanding of the Christian Right is remotely adequate without this foundational concept.
...The contest for control of the narrative of American history is well underway.
Newt Gingrich's alliance with David Barton goes back at least as far as the mid 1990s. In an October 5, 1995 speech at the Heritage Foundation, Gingrich praised Barton's book "The Myth of Separation" as "most useful" and "wonderful" and, as Speaker of the House, collaborated with Barton in a failed attempt to pass an amendment that would have allowed teachers and school officials to lead prayer in public schools.
The prayer amendment was part of a wider effort, the Christian Coalition's "Contract with the American Family" which was launched at a May 18, 1995 press conference by Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed, with Newt Gingrich at his side.
Besides allowing mandatory prayer in schools, the "Contract With The American Family" included a list of objectives, many of which would later pop up over a decade later on the agenda of the tea party movement -- abolishing the Department of Education, creating school vouchers to fund religious schools, defunding Planned Parenthood and banning late-term abortions, tax deductions for stay-at-home mothers, terminating Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment For the Arts, and the legal services corporation, which provides lawyers for the poor, and restricting pornography.
Gingrich supported the ten-point plan, stating that it represented "key values that matter most to Americans."
Gingrich's ties to Barton, and to Barton's falsified history oeuvre, have only grown over time.
Leading up to the 2004 election, the Republican National Committee hired David Barton for a national speaking tour to get evangelical voters to the polls for George W. Bush. California megachurch pastor Rob McCoy recalls a 2004 Orlando, Florida, event stating, "I had the privilege to hear from speakers like Mike Huckabee, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Congressman Bob McCewen, and historian David Barton... there was so much information I felt at times like I was drinking from a fire hydrant and couldn't absorb it all."
Since 2004, Gingrich and Barton have appeared together with increasing frequency at such "pastors events", and by 2006 Gingrich had made Barton's revisionist Christian nationalist history narrative his own, and even turned it into a side business, co-managed by Gingrich's current wife Callista -- launched with the 2006 publication of Newt Gingrich's book Rediscovering God in America: Reflections on the Role of Faith in Our Nation's History, which recapitulates David Barton's "walking tours" of Washington D.C. that showcase Christian symbolism and language expressed on capital buildings and monuments.
Gingrich's book also reiterates Barton's misleading and inaccurate claims that Thomas Jefferson promoted the use of government funds to evangelize Indian tribes and recommended the use of the Bible as a text in the District of Columbia school system.