Chuck Norris Helps the NCBCPS Spread David Barton's Lies
Chris Rodda printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Apr 15, 2007 at 12:40:11 AM EST
In an April 9, 2007 article on WorldNetDaily entitled Bringing the Bible Back Into Public Schools, National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools (NCBCPS) board member and spokesman Chuck Norris regurgitates the following erroneous claim, almost verbatim from the NCBCPS website's "Founding Fathers" page.

A study by the American Political Science Review on the political documents of the founding era, which was from 1760-1805, discovered that 94 percent of the period's documents were based on the Bible, with 34 percent of the contents being direct citations from the Bible. The Scripture was the bedrock and blueprint of our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, academic arenas and heritage until the last quarter of a century.

The study referred to by Norris was conducted by Donald S. Lutz of the University of Houston, whose findings were published in a 1984 article in The American Political Science Review. Misrepresentations of Lutz's study have been around for years, the first appearing in John Eidsmoe's 1987 book Christianity and the Constitution, followed a few years later by the version most often seen today, taken from NCBCPS advisory board member David Barton's book Original Intent.

The lies about the Lutz's study are created by accurately presenting the charts of the study's findings, but either omitting crucial parts of Lutz's explanations of these findings, as Eidsmoe did, or, like Barton, creating even more blatant lies by replacing Lutz's explanations with false conclusions about what the numbers in the charts indicate.

Chuck Norris gives two statistics in his version, claiming that 34% of the contents of the documents studied were direct citations from the Bible, and an even more astounding claim, that a whopping 94% of the documents of the period were based on the Bible. So, where do these numbers come from?

The 34% comes from the following chart in Lutz's study:

From this chart it really does appear that 34% of the citations in the documents studied came from the Bible. That's because they did. And, without Lutz's explanation of this figure, this chart seems to support the assertion that the Bible, more than any other source, influenced the political thought of the founders. So, the religious right history revisionists simply omit the following explanation of the chart provided by Lutz.

...From Table 1 we can see that the biblical tradition is most prominent among the citations. Anyone familiar with the literature will know that most of these citations come from sermons reprinted as pamphlets; hundreds of sermons were reprinted during the era, amounting to at least 10% of all pamphlets published. These reprinted sermons accounted for almost three-fourths of the biblical citations...

So, three-quarters of that 34% total came from a sub-category of one of the categories of the documents in the study. That bumps the Bible down into the range of Classical influences for documents that weren't sermons, and moves the Enlightenment and Whig influences into the number one and two spots for all the other documents, as would be expected.

That explains the 34%, but what about Norris's even more far-fetched claim that 94% of the documents of the period were based on the Bible? Well, that one comes from one of David Barton's videos. I don't have the video here to refer to, but from what I recall, Barton somehow concluded from his own study that 60% of the documents of the period were based on the Bible, and then added the 34% from Lutz's study, or something to that effect, ending up with a total of 94%.

Before going any further, I want to show exactly how the Lutz study is presented in the actual NCBCPS curriculum because this differs a bit from what appears on the organization's website and in Norris's article. The curriculum itself does not include Barton's 94% claim, but does include some other inaccuracies, as well as the misrepresentation of another magazine article.

It should also be mentioned here that in the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) report on the original version of the NCBCPS curriculum, Dr. Mark Chancey did note that the Lutz study was misrepresented in that version, but, while making many of the changes recommended in the report, no meaningful change was made to this section when the curriculum was revised. One of the recommendations in the TFN report was to reduce the number of direct quotes from David Barton's books, so, while the section about the Lutz study in the original curriculum was copied verbatim from Original Intent, a few phrases were changed and rearranged in the revised curriculum. It still says the same thing.

The Lutz study is mentioned in two places in Unit 17 of the curriculum, "The Bible & American History."

The first is in the unit's second section, "A Source of Revolutionary Ideas."

Whatever their positions and opinions on the faith of the Founding Fathers, most scholars agree that the bible was nonetheless a foundational text in the framing of our nation. One frequently cited secular study has suggested that the Bible (and Deuteronomy in particular) was the source most often cited by America's founders with regard to their ideas about civil government, and that the full scope of the Bible's influences on these ideas merits further research and inquiry.

Interestingly, this paragraph describes the sentences immediately preceding and immediately following the above quote from the study in which Lutz explained that three-quarters of the biblical citations in the 34% total came from sermons. Lutz began that paragraph by noting that Deuteronomy was the most often cited book, and ended it by saying that the problem of how to count biblical references was not important to this particular study, the object of which was to sort out the influence of European thinkers, but that biblical sources had not been given the attention they deserved. It's remarkable how both of these thoughts from that paragraph of Lutz's article made it into Barton's and the NCBCPS's books, but not the sentences in between that explain the 34% figure for the biblical citations.

The second mention of the study is in the third section of unit 17, "Biblical Citations." (The title of this section was one of the changes in the revised curriculum that reduced the number of direct quotes from Barton's book. In the original version, it was called "The Primary Influence," the title used in Original Intent.)

As noted above, a frequently cited university study, (i.e., Donald S. Lutz, "The Relative Influence of European Writers on Late Eighteenth-Century American Political Thought," The American Political Science Review 78 (1984), pp. 189-197), concluded that the Founders cited the Bible four times more often than either Montesquieu or Blackstone, and twelve times more often than John Locke. In fact, the study of 15,000 original documents concluded that biblical references accounted for 34 percent of the direct quotes in the political writings of the Founding Era. (This is followed by the above chart.)

There are several inaccuracies in this statement regarding what, exactly, was studied. The first is the number of documents. It was not 15,000. It was 916. The study began with an initial review of 15,000 documents, only 2,200 of which contained explicit enough political content to be considered. Out of this 2,200, those with "the most significant and coherent theoretical content" were chosen, eventually resulting in a sampling of 916 documents. Obviously, if the total number of citations, which is listed in the chart used in the curriculum, was 3,154, the number of documents could not have been greater than 3,154, but apparently the authors of the curriculum didn't notice that. All that mattered was the 34% of biblical citations.

The curriculum also fails to explain what types of documents were included in the study. This was not a study of official documents or things such as legislative proceedings. Only writings"printed for public consumption," such as books, newspaper articles, pamphlets, etc., containing more than 2,000 words, were included. The curriculum is also wrong in saying that what were counted were all "direct quotes." Lutz's definition of a citation was "any footnote, direct quote, attributed paraphrasing, or use of a name in exemplifying a concept or position."

Of all the findings in Lutz's study ignored by Barton and the NCBCPS, however, none are as important as those found in the section of his article entitled "The Pattern of Citations from 1787 to 1788." As seen in the earlier chart, Lutz broke down the number of citations by decade. In addition to this, he singled out the writings from 1787 and 1788, and then further separated these writings into those written by Federalists and those by Anti-federalists. Lutz found few biblical citations during these two years, and, very interestingly, not a single one in any of the Federalist writings. The following is from what Lutz wrote about this two year period in which the Constitution was written and debated in the press.

The Bible's prominence disappears, which is not surprising since the debate centered upon specific institutions about which the Bible has little to say. The Anti-Federalists do drag it in with respect to basic principles of government, but the Federalists' inclination to Enlightenment rationalism is most evident here in their failure to consider the Bible relevant.

As mentioned at the beginning of this piece, the NCBCPS curriculum misrepresents another magazine article in addition to the one by Lutz. The following claim, also found in Barton's Original Intent, immediately follows the chart from the Lutz study. 

These findings and others have led some journalists and historians to conclude that "historians are discovering that the Bible, perhaps even more than the Constitution, is our Founding document."

What the NCBCPS is quoting here is a December 27, 1982 Newsweek article by Kenneth L. Woodward and David Gates, entitled "How the Bible Made America."

First of all, the findings in Lutz's 1984 article had nothing to do with this 1982 Newsweek article. It was obviously prompted by the October 4, 1982 Resolution of Congress authorizing Ronald Reagan to proclaim 1983 as the "Year of the Bible." Second, the point of the article was that the Bible, both at the time the article was written and at other times in history, was merely a symbol used to justify the notion of America's superiority.

This is the quote used in the NCBCPS curriculum restored to its context:

Even at Christmas, the Bible is a book more revered than read. Yet for centuries it has exerted an unrivaled influence on American culture, politics and social life. Now historians are discovering that the Bible, perhaps even more than the Constitution, is our founding document: the source of the powerful myth of the United States as a special, sacred nation, a people called by God to establish a model society, a beacon to the world.

Here are a few other excerpts from the article to give a better sense of its tone:

No other country is as obsessed with the Bible as the United States. The vast majority of Americans, recent Gallup polls report, still regard the Bible as the word of God, and more than one American in three believes that every scriptural word is true. Only in America do Christians still fight so bitterly over versions of the Bible and national legislators declare 1983 "The Year of the Bible." Only in America is there a Bible belt with its interlocking networks of Bible camps, Bible colleges, Bible institutes and Bible bookstores. In America, Christian fundamentalists have emerged from cultural isolation in the latter days of the 20th century to unfurl once more the banner of Biblical Americanism. In their determination to put the Bible back in public schools, or create their own, and in their increasingly apocalyptic interpretations of world events on national television, the fundamentalists have once more made Scripture a subject of national controversy.

In sum, the Bible in America has joined the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, argues church historian Martin E. Marty of the University of Chicago, as an American "icon" -- a leatherbound symbol of transcendent authority, certainty and continuity with our nation's putatively sacred origins. Many Americans retain a family Bible as an heirloom in whose pages new names are added to the family tree, and Biblical rhetoric is as customary on Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July as it is on Christmas and Easter. No presidential candidate can afford not to pay ritual respect to the Good Book....

And this is what followed a paragraph about the amount of money Americans spent on Bibles and what the authors called a "bumper crop" of books about the Bible:

Despite this publishing phenomenon, the Bible has virtually disappeared from American education. It is rarely studied, even as literature, in public classrooms. Recent Gallup polls indicate that this illiteracy is by no means limited to the young or to nonbelievers. Despite the fact that the majority of Americans say they accept the Bible as the word of God, a comprehensive 1979 Gallup survey found that only 49 percent of Protestants and 44 percent of Roman Catholics could name as many as four of the Ten Commandments and less than half of the respondents said they turn first to the Scriptures for guidance in times of crisis.

Previous articles in this series on the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools:

The Influence of the Ten Commandments on American Law - According to the NCBCPS - 4/12/07
More Historical Revisionism in the NCBCPS Curriculum - 4/5/07
Historical Revisionism in the NCBCPS Curriculum - 3/31/07
Barton Revises History to Promote the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools - 3/24/07
More Historical Revisionism from the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools - 3/18/07
Historical Revisionism from the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools - 3/10/07

I wonder if Chuckie would agree to the following:

  1.  Study of the bible only if it is incorporated into a comparative religions class.
  2.  Creation story - ditto - incorporated (along with about 61 other creation stories) into a
comparative creation myths class.
3.  Prayer in schools - no problem - before
nine a.m., at recess and lunch hour and after school with their buddies on their own initiative.

And for the fellow who wants the ten commandments in stone, I suggest that they be placed right inside his office.

by Concerned on Sun Apr 15, 2007 at 09:01:41 PM EST

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