Jon Stewart goes toe-to-toe with evangelical activist David Barton -- EXTENDED VIDEO

When is Comedy Central’s biggest fake news program not a fake news program? When host Jon Stewart engages in a serious, nearly joke-free debate with one of his guests. These discussions aren’t as rare as one might expect them to be, givenĀ The Daily Show‘s status as a comedy program — and that’s a good thing, since watching one sort of feels like eating a meaty entree after sampling some delicious but light appetizers.

Last night, The Daily Show welcomed controversial Christian advocate David Barton. Ostensibly, Barton was there to plug a new book about Thomas Jefferson. But after his guest explained the tome’s basic premise — contrary to one popular belief, our third president was a religious man rather than a secularist –the discussion soon veered off in a different direction. Stewart began asking Barton why modern Christians often feel as though they’re being persecuted, despite the fact that the U.S. is still an overwhelmingly Christian country.

From there, Barton began talking about the work he’s done with Christians who have been targeted for what he calls exercising their free speech — things like handing out bibles and, in the case of one five-year-old kid, praying over his lunch at school. Stewart was fascinated by Barton’s argument — so much so that when he realized the two of them were running out of time, he decided to speak with Barton for an extra 14 minutes and put the rest of the footage online.

And while the segment that aired was plenty interesting, the interview’s second and third parts are even better. In Part 2, Stewart challenges Barton’s points by asking whether he’d still advocate public prayer in a place like, say, the overwhelmingly Muslim city of Dearborn, Mich. (Barton’s answer there is a little convoluted: “If I’m in Dearborn and they ask an individual to pray, I’m going to expect that I’m going to get a Muslim prayer. But that’s not because they voted and they said that he has to pray a Muslim prayer. … If they vote to have a prayer, that’s fine, and then whoever prays is going to pray the prayer they pray.” It makes more sense when you hear it… but not a ton more.)

And in Part 3, the duo tackles the Blunt Amendment and religious protections in the workplace — both from the employers’ perspective and from the employees’ perspective. Take a look at both extra clips below:

The Stewart/Barton interview is a great antidote to the nastiness that often characterizes cable news. It’s wonderful to watch these two engage in a calm, respectful debate, even though they clearly hold very different positions. But even though naming a “winner” seems sort of beside the point, I have a feeling that that’s what viewers will feel the urge to do after watching these videos.

So tell me, PopWatchers — who do you think came out on top in this debate? And even if you support one viewpoint over the other, did Stewart or Barton’s arguments make you reconsider your position?

Read more:
Jon Stewart criticizes Obama for slow-jamming news: ‘You’re the president! You don’t have to do this s– anymore!’
‘The Daily Show’ goes ‘Inside the Political Curtain’ with Herman Cain — VIDEO
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