I just finished watching the David Barton interview with John Stewart on Wednesday’s “The Daily Show.”  By part 3 of the extended interview, I had this terrible sense that John was at a disadvantage as every fact he quoted from his notes was returned to him as a “lie” or “false” by Barton. It was turning into a “he said, he said” interview, with Barton claiming to know things from documents and Stewart trying to hold the line and make Barton accountable.
So was Barton bending the truth with every retort? I can’t check every fact; I have an actual full-time job. I’ll let others take a crack at that (PolitiFact?). But one thing jumped out at me. Barton fired back at Stewart at one point that more than one state still had a religious litmus test for office in their Constitution. He cited the Massachusetts State Constitution as one example of a document requiring a religious test for office, but just not enforcing it any more.
Is that true?
According to Chapter II, Article II of the Massachusetts State Constitution ,
Article II. The governor shall be chosen [annually]; and no person shall be eligible to this office, unless at the time of his election, he shall have been an inhabitant of this commonwealth for seven years next preceding; [and unless he shall at the same time, be seised in his own right, of a freehold within the commonwealth of the value of one thousand pounds; and unless he shall declare himself to be of the Christian religion.] [See Amendments, Arts. VII, XXXIV, LXIV and LXXX.]
Without reading the cited Amendments, Barton would seem to be correct – this state does require explicitly a Christian religious litmus test.
But what do the Amendments say? Barton claims many times during his interview that he always cites the full document when he takes a quote and uses it in an argument. What about these Amendments noted above – the “full text” of the Constitution? And remember: amendments to the document undo original text and nullify it; look at our own U.S. Constitution regarding slaves and voting rights, as well as prohibition of alcohol.
The very first Amendment noted above, Article VII of the Articles of Amendment, is the key:
Article VII. No oath, declaration or subscription, excepting the oath prescribed in the preceding article and the oath of office, shall be required of the governor, lieutenant governor, councillors, senators or representatives, to qualify them to perform the duties of their respective offices.
The original requirement, that ” . . . no person shall be eligible [for the Governorship] . . . unless he shall declare himself to be of the Christian religion” is struck by this Amendment; no such declaration is any longer required of the Governor of the state of Massachusetts. When did Article VII of the Articles of Amendment appear in this document?
I’m no historian, and I had a hard time pinning this down. But according to the book “The Referendum Among the English” , pp. 43-44, it was in 1821 that 14 articles of amendment were presented to the people of Massachusetts for ratification; only nine were ratified, and Article IX as reported in that book is exactly the Article of Amendment IX in the Massachusetts Constitution; since the amendments appear in the order in which they were ratified, one has to assume that Article VII was ratified in that same year – 1821. This is just 41 years after the Massachusetts State Constitution was created (1780).
So what oath IS required of the Governor? Merely this, according to the same document,
“I, A. B. do solemnly swear, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and will support the constitution thereof. So help me God.”
Certainly, if Barton can be wrong about something so easily researched then others more resourceful and talented than I can track down the verity of his other claims to fact and truth. If anyone could use a little help from God, it’s definitely Barton; however, since life has taught me that God has a wicked sense of humor, I suspect He’s happy to just let Barton continue to chew on that foot in his mouth. I don’t usually like to act like an academic snob, but sometimes when you don’t have a Ph.D. in a research field in which you profess to be an expert, it really shows. REALLY shows. One might also conclude from this, if one were so inclined, that Barton is intentionally misleading his audience. But I’ll leave that up to the experts.