Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) will host a private tour of the Capitol next week led by a controversial Republican religious operative who advocates the impeachment of “activist” federal judges.
Democrats were quick to question Frist’s choice of tour guides.
David Barton, vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party, was invited by Frist to give the tour, which the Tennessee Senator described in a March 31 invitation to all 100 Senators as “a Fresh Perspective on Our Nation’s Religious Heritage.”
“He is an historian noted for his detailed research into the religious heritage of our nation,” Frist wrote his colleagues.
The hour-long bipartisan tour for Senators and their families is scheduled to take place Monday night.
Barton is the leader of a movement whose goal is to highlight the influence of Christianity on the nation’s history as well as tear down the barrier that separates the church and state.
He is also the founder of Wallbuilders, which bills itself as “an organization dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious and constitutional foundation on which America was built — a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined.”
Barton charges that authors of children’s textbooks deliberately make no mention that the Founding Fathers were “devout men and Christians who actively practiced their faith.” Instead he contends in an article posted on Wallbuilders.com that “In recent years as the same founders have come to be portrayed as atheists, agnostics and deists who were opposed to religious activities, public policies have similarly been reversed.”
As for federal judges, Barton calls for Congress to take a greater oversight role of the judiciary by invoking its power to remove a judge when Congress believes he has overstepped his bounds.
“Today’s judiciary, not having experienced any serious threat of impeachment as judges in earlier generations, repeatedly flaunts its contempt for the will of the people,” Barton wrote in a separate article posted on his Web site.
In the same article, Barton accused the U.S. Supreme Court of acting as the nation’s policymaker.
“The Supreme Court, fully believing its own propaganda, regularly strikes down or rewrites the laws of Congress to conform to its own predilections and edicts,” Barton wrote.
He urged readers to get involved and lobby Congress to use its impeachment power when necessary. And he suggested the threat of removal from the bench in some cases is just as powerful as following through with actual impeachment proceedings.
“It is true that impeachment is a cumbersome process, and achieving a conviction is difficult,” Barton writes. “However, on most occasions, just the threat of impeachment produces results.
“In fact, there are several examples of federal judges correcting their own decisions after hearing Congressional calls for their impeachment,” he added.
A telephone message for Barton seeking comment for the story was not returned Wednesday.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) sounded a similar punishment theme against the judges who would not allow a feeding tube to provide nourishment to Terri Schiavo — a brain-damaged Florida woman. Congress had passed legislation calling for the federal courts to review the case and President Bush expressed hope Schiavo would continue to receive food and water.
When Schiavo died, DeLay said, “the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.”
And the House Majority Leader described the judicial system as “an arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their noses at Congress and the president.”
Frist sought to distance himself from DeLay’s remarks earlier this week when he told reporters, “I believe we have a fair and independent judiciary today and I respect that.”
But the Senate Majority Leader in a short interview Wednesday would not address Barton’s position on impeaching judges.
“I hope it doesn’t upset people because he is giving a tour of the Capitol,” Frist said. “I am not sure what we are going to be talking about, but we look forward to the tour.”
Several leading Democrats, though, questioned why the Majority Leader would invite such a polarizing figure to conduct the tour.
“I would have to ask Sen. Frist why he feels this man has any professional expertise explaining what the U.S. Capitol is all about,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “Religion has been an important part of our nation’s history, but we have also been extremely careful to be respectful of other people’s beliefs.”
In addition to his historical religious teachings, Barton was hired by the Republican National Committee in 2004 to help with outreach efforts to religious conservatives. Barton was also part of an organized effort by religious leaders last year to exert pressure on Congress to approve a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages.
As for Barton’s view on impeaching judges, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) charged that Barton “doesn’t understand the Constitution.”
“Woe be onto us that Mr. Barton’s concept of casual impeachment of judges becomes the rule,” Lautenberg said.
This wouldn’t be the first time Barton has conducted a tour of the Capitol. He regularly takes ministers on an “evening Spiritual Heritage Tour of the U.S. Capitol” during visits to the nation’s capital to meet with “Christian Senators and Representatives,” according to his Web site.
“Attendees are inspired by the many Godly heroes honored throughout the building as David brings new life and perspective to the rich, spiritual history represented throughout this great building,” reads a summary of the tour posted on the his Web site.
Members act as the official hosts for these tours, and Barton’s Web site states that another briefing is scheduled for next week.
While Frist lauded Barton’s historical expertise, his detractors suggest his conclusions are not based in fact.
“He is to American history what the fundamentalist creationists are to science,” said Rob Boston, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “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.”