In two recent sermons (Whitesburg Baptist Church – AL; Crossroads Church – OK), David Barton told his audience that violent crime has increased 694% since the 1963 Supreme Court decision on Bible reading in schools. Barton cited Benjamin Rush as a founding father who believe the Bible should be in schools. According to Barton, Rush warned that crime would increase if the Bible was ever removed from education.
To his audience at Crossroads (36 minutes into the video), Barton showed this chart as proof of his contention.
This is difficult to see but I have added some notations in yellow. The chart shows number of violent offenses from 1951 through 1993. Crime gradually increased from the 1950s and spiked upward from the early 1960s to the early 1990s. However, does anyone know what happened after that?
If you said violent crime rates began a pattern of decline, you would be correct. Barton doesn’t show what happened after 1993. Click the link to use the FBI data tool to get the numbers. Click here to see a chart of the crime rates from 1960 to 2010. According to the FBI stats, the violent crime rate in 2010 was the lowest since 1972 and has been falling steadily since 1991. The murder rate is the same as it was in 1961. This chart provides the rest of the history about overall violent crime rates that Barton didn’t tell.
There are many theories about this pattern but suffice it to say that these data do not support Barton’s contention. During the rest of his sermon, Barton decries the Biblical illiteracy of today’s church and cites questionable statistics about divorce rates and other indicators of general decline. If anything, according to Barton, things are worse now than ever. If Barton’s theory was correct, then why would crime rates be falling?
As noted, many theories exist but the pattern of increase and decline probably do not reflect the presence or absence of the Bible in schools.
UPDATE (6/26/13): Also relevant to Barton’s theory is a comparison of the United States with other nations. Good numbers are hard to come by but let’s start with the UN data on homicide (excel file). Historically Shinto and Buddhist but practically non-religious Japan boasts a very low rate (.4) versus the United States (4.8). Norway (.6) and Sweden (1.0) record low rates despite being quite secular.
Another factor that should be added to any discussion is the fact the Bible had been long gone from many public schools before the 1963 decision. The Cincinnati Bible wars were waged between 1869 and 1871, with the result being the removal of Bible from Cincinnati schools.