iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Chris Rodda

Chris Rodda

Posted: March 9, 2009 02:49 PM

David Barton Admits that Forbes is "capitalizing on Obama's use of the Lincoln Bible"

On January 28, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA), founder of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, introduced H. Con. Res. 34, a resolution "Calling upon the Capitol Preservation Commission and the Office of the Architect of the Capitol to place the Lincoln-Obama Bible on permanent display upon the Lincoln table at the Capitol Visitor Center for the benefit of all its visitors to fully understand and appreciate America's history and Godly heritage."

Now, I have no objection whatsoever to this Bible being displayed in the Capitol Visitors Center. It is an historical fact that this was the Bible that Abraham Lincoln used at his second inauguration, and an historical fact that Barack Obama chose to use this same Bible at his inauguration, so displaying it on the table used to hold it at Lincoln's inauguration, which is already in the exhibit, and adding a sign saying that Obama also used it, is absolutely appropriate. I don't think anyone could reasonably disagree that our first black president incorporating in his inauguration this connection to the president who freed the slaves is something that should be seen by future generations visiting the Capitol, and putting the Bible on the table used to hold it at Lincoln's inauguration would simply add to the accuracy of the exhibit's recreation of that event.

What I do object to in H. Con. Res. 34 are some of the reasons given by Forbes for displaying the Bible, in both the resolution's title and its "Whereas" clauses, the most objectionable of which is:

"Whereas the Holy Bible is God's Word"

This is nothing but a sneaky way of getting the Congress of the United States to declare that the Christian Bible is the word of God, which, of course, for many Americans, it is not. This "Whereas" should be struck from the resolution entirely.

Some of the resolution's other "Whereas" clauses would be fine if slightly amended. For example, Congress cannot, in speaking for "we" the American people, declare that "we" all would find it necessary to invoke "God's help" to rededicate ourselves to the principles espoused by Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address. So, the following clause should be amended to remove the words "with God's help."

"Whereas with the Obama inauguration on January 20, 2009, we, with God's help, rededicate ourselves anew to the eternal tasks before us necessary to ensure for generations to come that our 'government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth'"

There are also a number of this resolution's clauses that should be amended for the sake of historical accuracy, something that Mr. Forbes has never been one to concern himself with, as became abundantly clear with his introduction in the last Congress of H. Res. 888.

"Whereas each one of the 43 presidents of the United States since George Washington on April 30, 1789, has commenced his term of office by placing his hand upon the Holy Bible and solemnly swearing the Constitutional oath..."

This statement is simply not true. Not all of our presidents have been sworn in on a Bible. Theodore Roosevelt didn't use a Bible when he took the oath in 1901. Franklin Pierce chose the affirmation option rather than swearing an oath. John Quincy Adams took the oath on a law book containing the Constitution. Adams, although personally quite religious, and maybe because he was so religious, didn't think the Bible should be used for the non-religious purpose of taking an oath to uphold the Constitution. So, this "Whereas" should either be amended to say "most" presidents, or, better yet, be struck from the resolution entirely because what other presidents have done at their inaugurations is completely irrelevant to the question of whether or not the Lincoln Bible should be added to the Capitol Visitors Center exhibit. Similarly, the "Whereas" stating that all of our presidents have added "So help me God" to the oath should be struck out. These words have not always been added, and there is significant evidence that even George Washington, the man who is claimed to have started the tradition of adding these words, didn't actually add them.

The parts of this resolution tracing our nation's struggle for civil rights from the Declaration of Independence's "proposition that all men are created equal," to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, to the election of Barack Obama -- and even the "Whereas" clauses about the Lincoln table currently being displayed sans Bible -- are all that is necessary or relevant to the resolution's object of displaying the Lincoln Bible in the Capitol Visitors Center. So why did Randy Forbes add all this stuff about the Bible being the word of God, or how many times Lincoln referenced God in his inaugural address, or anything else? Well, because this resolution has far less to do with the legitimate reason for displaying the Lincoln Bible than it has to do with the ongoing battle over the Capitol Visitors Center.

Accusations of a "secularist" conspiracy to keep God out of the new Capitol Visitors Center were flying from the religious right throughout its construction, and have continued since its opening in December. Newt Gingrich started a petition and posted a video on YouTube. Noted Christian nationalist historical revisionist David Barton sent out an email to his minions quoting an unnamed congressman calling the Visitors Center a "$600 million godless pit." Barton, the go-to guy for Christian nationalist members of Congress who need to concoct an historical basis for something on their agenda, was actually involved in this battle against "political correctness" from the beginning, writing a report distributed by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on the "errors both of Omission and of Fact" in the exhibit design approved by the Capitol Preservation Commission in 2005. In Congress, the fight has been led by Randy Forbes and Congressional Prayer Caucus, along with Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC).

There were actually three Bibles that Forbes and DeMint wanted added to the Capitol Visitors Center exhibit -- the Lincoln Bible, an exhibit about the Geneva Bible used by the Pilgrims, and the 1782 Aitken Bible -- all of which were among the many religious items and changes requested prior to the election of Barack Obama.

In an October 1, 2008 memorandum from Randy Forbes to the House Administration Staff, Forbes described the Aitken Bible of 1782 as the "Bible of the Revolution," and further requested that it be displayed "with an informational placard explaining that it is the first English Bible printed in America and the first Bible ever to be printed as an Act of Congress." Sen. DeMint also complained in a list he came up with that the Aitken Bible was absent from the Visitors Center, claiming that it "was the only Bible ever printed by an act of the United States Congress."

The Aitken Bible was not called the "Bible of the Revolution" at the time it was printed. That was just a name given to it in the 1930s by some entrepreneurs who were trying to sell the individual leaves of a dismembered copy of this extremely rare Bible. But, more importantly, this Bible was not printed by an act of Congress. This is just one of the many lies popularized by David Barton and used by people like Randy Forbes and Jim DeMint. But that's not why I'm bringing it up. The point is that out of the three different Bibles listed among the items that Forbes and DeMint wanted added to the exhibit, they are now focusing on only one -- the Lincoln Bible. Why? Because they have a new reason that might get this one in -- our new, black president used it at his inauguration. It's a symbol of the struggle for civil rights. Funny they never brought up Lincoln's role in this struggle before. Prior to Obama's inauguration, their only reason for adding this Bible was the table used to hold it at Lincoln's inauguration was in the exhibit, but the Bible wasn't. But now Randy Forbes, in a recent statement about the reason this Bible is so important, and why he wants it in the Capitol Visitors Center is suddenly:

"President Barack Obama chose to swear his oath of office on the same Bible that Abraham Lincoln used at his inauguration in 1861. As our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln led us out of the dark period of slavery in the United States so that African Americans could be given the freedom they deserved, and the Lincoln Bible has come to represent a 148-year epoch in civil rights, from the freeing of slaves, to desegregation, and now to the swearing in of the first African American president of the United States."

In an email sent out by his WallBuilders organization urging his minions to contact their representatives in support of H. Con. Res. 34, Forbes's buddy David Barton actually comes right out and admits that Forbes is "capitalizing" on Obama's use of this Bible to advance his pre-Obama agenda of using the new Capitol Visitors Center to promote religion.

"To that end -- and capitalizing on Obama's use of the Lincoln Bible during his own inauguration -- Congressman Randy Forbes of Virginia (head of the Congressional Prayer Caucus) has introduced a resolution urging the display of the Lincoln Bible in the Capitol Visitor Center.

"That resolution -- H.Con.Res. 34 -- is an excellent way to place more of America's Godly heritage on display for all Americans. ..."

So, be honest, Rep. Forbes. You've been trying to get more Bibles -- any Bibles -- as many Bibles as possible -- into this exhibit for years. Obama just gave you a new reason you can exploit to advance an old objective, and you're taking advantage of it.

But, like I said at the beginning of this piece, I have no objection to the Lincoln Bible being added to the Capitol Visitors Center exhibit. I'd just like to see it added for the right reason -- as a symbol of the continuity of the struggle for civil rights from Lincoln to Obama, a symbol that all Americans, whether they believe the Bible is God's word or not, can appreciate -- and not as a government promotion of Christianity.