While nobody can stop history revisionists like David Barton from spreading their made up version of American history by speaking at Christian schools, public schools are a different matter. So, when I saw that Barton’s son, Tim Barton, who delivers the same presentation as his father, was scheduled to speak next week at Honesdale High School, a public high school school in Pennsylvania, I picked up the phone and called the school.
After telling the woman who answered the phone why I was calling, I was transferred to the principal’s voicemail to leave a message. Somewhat to my surprise, the phone rang only a few minutes later. It was the school’s principal, Tim Morgan, and our conversation was an unexpected pleasure.
When I asked Mr. Morgan for information about Tim Barton’s appearance, he told me that he had looked at Barton’s WallBuilders organization, and had already decided that allowing Tim Barton to speak at a public school assembly would cross the Establishment Clause line. Tim Barton is being permitted to speak at the school, but only to a Christian club after school hours. As Mr. Morgan rightly explained, the school has to allow religious clubs to use the school’s facilities on the same basis as non-religious clubs. Unfortunately, in this case, the speaker isn’t just delivering a religious message to the students in this Christian club, but delivering a healthy dose of Christian nationalist historical revisionism.
While Mr. Morgan was aware that Wallbuilders is a religious organization, which was his reason for finding Tim Barton to be an inappropriate speaker for a school assembly, he wasn’t familiar with exactly who David Barton was. So, I said what I usually say to educators who don’t immediately recognize Barton’s name: “Remember that textbook thing down in Texas …”
Mr. Morgan and I ended up speaking for quite a while, with our conversation wandering from Barton to more general talk about American history and the Constitution. Before becoming a principal, Mr. Morgan taught civics, and he told me that our conversation was making the civics teacher in him come out. In fact, at one point, when I brought up a fairly recent debate in Congress to illustrate a point, both Mr. Morgan and I found ourselves pulling out our copies of the Constitution to look up the wording of a particular clause. He also quoted Benjamin Franklin off the top of his head, told me how he used to explain the separation of church and state when he was a teacher, and repeated several times the simple rule that he’s gone by as a public school educator and administrator: “Keep what’s personal personal, and what’s public public.”
I hung up the phone thinking that this guy was probably a very good civics teacher, and that he’s certainly doing a good job upholding the Constitution as a principal. So, kudos to Honesdale High School principal Tim Morgan!