Theocrats in Maryland

Several bloggers (such as Jesus’ General) have picked up on a story from the Church of Critical Thinking about Margaret Sayre, 70-year old member of the tax-funded Anne Arundel County senior center in Maryland. The centre provides meals for the elderly, and after 9/11 a moment of silence before eating was introduced. However, this has since evolved into the saying of Christian prayers, and while Sayre has no problem with a generic message acceptable Jews or unbelievers like herself, she found the enforced Christian praying too much and so wrote to her representative in the Maryland House of Delegates, Don Dwyer. Dwyer, however, is a hard-core theocrat, and responded that:

If the atheist (sic) of Maryland want something different then I would suggest building an atheist Senior Center where you won’t have to hear any prayers but leave my people alone.

He added to the local newspaper, “What is the violation of church and state?… There is no separation of church and state in the Constitution that the atheists profess it to be.” He also triumphantly told a Virginia AU member who objected to his dismissal of Sayre:

Fortunately in Maryland our constitution under the Declaration of Rights article 36 still states that in order to serve in elected office you have to believe in God. Isn’t that great!!!

(The Church of Critical Thinking points out that this has not been the case since 1961 – but I suppose Dwyer is looking to the future, not the past)

But who is Don Dwyer? A strong supporter of Roy Moore (Dwyer himself has helpfully rounded up press coverage here), Dwyer was also in the news a while back for his distribution of an essay by his school-age nephew that argued that Islam is evil and the opposite of Christianity. I think the plan was that by using a child to spread his message of Islamophobia, Dwyer could accuse critics of going after a kid. Dwyer’s website (which features the essay) highlights some of his associations:

I attend Pasadena Evangelical Presbyterian Church…I served on the Board of Rockbridge Academy for three years…I was most recently the Director of the American College for Cultural Studies

Rockbridge is a Christian school that oddly makes a point of describing itself as “non-Roman Catholic”; the church is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the same denomination as influential Texas businessman and theocrat James Leininger.

However, it is the last link that is the most interesting. The American College for Cultural studies was founded by Constitution Party Presidential nominee (and Pasadena based) Michael Peroutka as a “Biblical-Constitutionalist education program”. It is linked closely with Peroutka’s Institute on the Constitution, which tells us that

many Americans are surprised but delighted to learn that we were founded as a Constitutional Republic of Sovereign States with a central government of purposely limited powers based on Biblical principles. The recovery and application of these principles is necessary for the reclamation of the Republic.

IOTC begins with a basic course of study consisting of 12 video lectures featuring Dr. John Eidsmoe, professor of Constitutional Law at the Thomas Goode Jones School of Law at Faulkner University, along with other selected materials by speakers such as David Barton of Wallbuilders, Inc.

More on Barton in a moment. The IOTC has a newsletter, to which Dwyer contributes. In December 2003 his piece came after a long essay on Creationism, in which it was asserted that evolutionary science cannot be believed on moral grounds:

The concept of the special creation of mankind and all living things was the world view of our Founding Fathers. That mankind was created not evolved they knew to be an essential foundation of liberty. The idea of evolution was not new with Darwin. It had ancient roots. Our Founding Fathers knew of this idea. They clearly recognized that the source of true liberty is rooted in the truth that all men are created by Almighty God.

Apparently Pete DeRosa of Creation Expeditions had (like our friend Russ McGlenn from a few days ago) undertaken research in South Dakota that showed that dinosaurs lived on a young earth only a few thousand years ago – although rather than try and get a peer-reviewed paper out of his paradigm-shattering researches, an interview for a fundamentalist newsletter seems to be sufficient reward.

Dwyer’s own contribution is a rallying cry for Roy Moore, where he states that:

The time has come when true freedom loving Americans must take a stand and remain silent no longer. We can no longer sit idly by and watch our nation disappear before our very eyes. We must do what we can to educate ourselves, our children, our family and our friends. It is the education contained in our host lecture kit that gave me the knowledge and understanding as to what must be done in order to return us to a constitutional Republic one state at a time.

The “host lecture kit” that so influenced Dwyer is photographed below his article, and the name David Barton looms large on the course materials.

Barton is a one-time Vice Chair of the theocratic Republican Party of Texas. Barton’s main concern is with ensuring Texan children get to read Christian textbooks, as The Dark Window brought to our attention last month. A 1999 article in the Texas Observer by Nate Blakeslee provides a fuller profile:

In 1989, Barton self-published The Myth of Separation, a pseudo-historical, poorly argued polemic purporting to prove that the American tradition of separation of church and state is based on a historical fallacy resulting from a misreading of the writings of the founders. Barton followed his book with a popular video titled America’s Godly Heritage, which has been widely promoted by the Christian Coalition, James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, and the Eagle Forum. Barton’s video traces virtually every social problem in America – from declining S.A.T. scores to increasing alcoholism – to the Supreme Court’s anti-school prayer decisions of the early 1960s. (In his 1988 book America: To Pray or Not to Pray?, Barton claims that God himself gave him the idea for the project – specifically directing him to find the exact date school prayer was banned and chart that date against records of national S.A.T. scores.) Since 1991, Barton has made his living on the lecture circuit, touring the nation almost continuously while his suburban Fort Worth ministry continues to crank out a catalogue of “Christian recontructionist” publications…

An account of Barton’s dishonest (or incompetent) handling of Jefferson follows, and then this rather disturbing snippet:

Barton’s lecture-cum-sermon on Christian-American history is much in demand among the fringe groups of the far right. In 1991, he spoke at a retreat in Colorado sponsored by Pastor Pete Peters, whose Scriptures for America ministry is affiliated with the racist and anti-Semitic Christian Identity movement. (According to a report by Rob Boston in the journal Church and State, Peters’ congregation at one time included members of a neo-Nazi group called The Order, the same local neo-Nazi group implicated in the 1984 murder of Denver talk-radio host Alan Berg.)

Looks like old ladies being forced to pray for their supper in Maryland is only the thin edge of very unpleasant wedge.

UPDATE (4 October): I’ve just noticed that Barton and Katherine Harris co-presented a talk at Giles’ conference entitled “God in Government”. Jeb Bush offered “Welcome & Godspeed”. It’s here on the agenda, albeit cached only.

UPDATE 2 (31 Jan 05): Much more on Barton in today’s World O’Crap.