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Barton sues past SBOE candidates for defamation, defendants call it ‘intimidation tactic’

A libel and defamation suit lodged by social conservative “historian” David Barton is being called an “intimidation tactic” and an attack on free speech by two of the lawsuit’s targets, both former candidates for a state board.

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/DavidBarton.jpegDavid Barton

Barton, founder of Texas-based WallBuilders, a right-wing Christian group that aims to inject God into the civic arena, alleges former State Board of Education candidates Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau have portrayed him as a white supremacist sympathizer and liar, the Weatherford Democrat reported.

Barton claims statements made by the defendants caused lost business for WallBuilders and for himself, and exposed him to “public hatred, contempt, ridicule, financial injury and impeaching [Barton’s] honesty, integrity and virtue.” The suit, filed on Sept. 1, requests “unspecified damages.”

The allegations center around a video on YouTube created by the Democratic candidates’ campaigns during their SBOE bids in the 2010 elections.

In it, the candidates say Barton is “known for speaking at white supremacist rallies,” likely referring to an early 1990s Colorado retreat hosted by Scriptures for America, a group the Anti-Defamation League linked to the “Christian Identity” movement. Members of the movement support the ideas that Jewish people pose a threat to civilization, that black people and other minority groups are inferior to whites and that gay people should be executed.

Following criticism over Barton’s ties with the group, WallBuilders staff argued they “had absolutely no idea” that the head of Scriptures for America was “part of the Nazi movement.”

Aside from the speaking engagement in Colorado, Barton also spoke at a 1991 event in Oregon sponsored by another group reportedly linked to the “Christian Identity” movement, in which he came under criticism for by human rights organizations.

In a recent interview, Jennings told the Texas Independent the suit feels like a means to intimidate candidates and an attack on free speech rights.

“I’m a little surprised he thought my message was important enough to sue me,” said Jennings, “I think that he should probably go back and read the First Amendment.”

Bell-Metereau told the Democrat the suit is “frivolous,” and wondered if it may just be a “publicity stunt.” A Texas State University English professor, she stressed the scrupulous fact-checking that took place during her campaign while producing material.

“I could speculate that maybe he’s trying to intimidate people from running for office,” she said. (Thanks to this year’s redistricting, all the SBOE seats are up again during the 2012 elections.)

Both former SBOE contenders lost their prospective seats to Republicans candidates last November.

The third defendant in Barton’s suit is an Examiner.com writer who Barton accuses of libel.

Barton, who could not be reached for comment, is a former co-chair of the Texas Republican Party and evangelical minister, and a prominent conservative right-wing speaker. As head of WallBuilders, which advocates against the separation of church and state, Barton was appointed by members of the board of education’s social conservative bloc to help rewrite the SBOE’s controversial social studies curriculum — a role Jennings and Bell-Metereau criticizes during their campaigns.

Calling the suit a “case of a revisionist historian trying to revise his own history,” Texas Freedom Network president Kathy Miller called Barton’s claims an attempt to “chill free expression.”

“It’s puzzling that Mr. Barton has chosen now to sue two former candidates for simply discussing something that has been in the public record for nearly two decades — his past associations with groups reportedly tied to white supremacist and anti-Semitic movements,” she said in a statement. “Instead of suing people for essentially repeating what has already been reported, perhaps he should acknowledge his poor judgment in associating with fringe groups.”

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