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If they listen to many historians and read most social studies textbooks, Americans would think the nation's Founding Fathers largely were irreligious, the speaker for next month's Chattanooga Area Leadership Prayer Breakfast said.

However, David Barton, founder and president of WallBuilders, a national pro-family organization, said 29 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence held seminary or Bible school degrees.

"We too often emphasize the exception rather than the rule," he said in an e-mail. "We make sure that every student knows the two least-religious signers," Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, so we "project the signers as being largely irreligious on the basis of Jefferson and Franklin rather than otherwise on the basis of the other 54."

The 32nd annual prayer breakfast will be Tuesday, May 11, at 7 a.m. at the Chattanooga Convention Center. No breakfast was held last year because of a scheduling conflict with speakers.

Charles Monroe, chairman of the citizens committee that organizes the event, said Mr. Barton is a bit of departure as a speaker for the breakfast with his background as a history and constitutional scholar and in the fact his presentation will be interactive.

"There's a renewed excitement with the committee," he said. "A lot of people missed it (when it wasn't held in 2009). Tickets sales are going well. We're very pleased."

Mr. Barton, a consultant to state and federal legislators who has been involved in the development of social studies standards for several states, said he will speak at the prayer breakfast not only on the faith of the Founding Fathers but the historical role of religion in the public square as demonstrated by their words, actions and laws.

He said the framers of the government supported an institutional separation of church and state, but they did not support a separation of religious influence and strongly opposed a secularization of civil society.

Beginning in 1947, he said, the Supreme Court has rejected the Founding Fathers' design and instead began attaching the separation metaphor to the Establishment Clause, causing the government to stop public religious expressions.

"We should go back to the actual meaning of the First Amendment," said Mr. Barton, whom Time Magazine named in 2005 as one of America's 25 most influential evangelicals, "and maintain an institutional separation but not a societal secularization that limits citizens' ability to express faith publicly."

Although he said the country is in a position where it could either turn the corner toward a better society or go down a road the Founding Fathers never intended, he said he tends to be positive.

"I have great faith in the American people -- in the average, God-fearing, hard-working, decent, unselfish folks who are happy to be a Good Samaritan to those around them," Mr. Barton said. "I think God still has many good days planned for America, if we will make the needed course corrections now."

IF YOU GO

* What: 32nd annual Chattanooga Area Leadership Prayer Breakfast

* When: 7 a.m. Tuesday, May 11

* Where: Chattanooga Convention Center, 1150 Carter St.

* Admission: $20

* Phone: 698-0100

PURPOSE OF EVENT

The purpose of the Chattanooga Area Leadership Prayer Breakfast is to encourage morality and ethics in the lives of all people in positions of leadership in business, government and in professions.

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