Raising the Barr on Religious Liberty

October 18, 2019

More than two out of every three Americans think their beliefs are under attack -- and after the Left's hysteria over a speech by Attorney General Bill Barr, it's not hard to understand why. Barr, a Catholic, gave a stirring talk at Notre Dame -- one of the most powerful given on religious liberty by a government figure in decades. "Secularists, and their allies among the 'progressives,' have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values," he insisted. And immediately, liberals set about proving the attorney general right.

The Washington Post called it "terrifying." Over at the New York Times, Paul Krugman said it smacked of "religious bigotry." Richard Painter's fury burned through his Twitter feed, insisting Barr's heartfelt and passionate address was "the latest episode of 'The Handmaid's Tail." And the rage went on and on. Of course, the Wall Street Journal's William McGurn points out, "This is what we have come to expect when someone in public life mentions religion in a positive light." Or, it turns out, secular activists in a negative one.

"Attorney General Barr's real beef was not with atheists or agnostics, as some people have misinterpreted his remarks [to mean]," the editors of the Washington Times point out. "A person has as much a right to be an atheist in America as he does a Christian, Muslim, or Jew, and the attorney general is obviously aware of that. Instead, Mr. Barr took issue with intolerant secularists, who seek to impose their way of life on others." As he said, "Militant secularists today do not have a 'live and let live' spirit -- they are not content to leave religious people alone to practice their faith. Instead, they seem to take a delight in compelling people to violate their conscience." And there are scores of wedding vendors, doctors, teachers, sportscasters, first responders, businessmen, and artists who know it.

Taking his cues from history, he talked about American law being rooted in religion and morality. "The imperative of protecting religious freedom was not just a nod in the direction of piety. It reflects the Framers' belief that religion was indispensable to sustaining our free system of government." Harkening back to James Madison, John Adams, and others, he reminded people that "By and large, the Founding generation's view of human nature was drawn from the classical Christian tradition... [F]ree government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people," Barr explained.

But, modern secularists, he went on, "dismiss this idea... as other-worldly superstition imposed by a kill-joy clergy." They've imposed their own ideas of moral relativism on society and the results have been grim. "First is the force, fervor, and comprehensiveness of the assault on religion we are experiencing today. This is not decay; it is organized destruction," Barr warns. Of course, "One of the ironies, as some have observed, is that the secular project has itself become a religion, pursued with religious fervor. It is taking on all the trappings of a religion, including inquisitions and excommunication."

He talks about the challenges facing parents with school-aged children, the futileness of government treating symptoms -- instead of causes -- of social decline. He decries the aftershocks of the Obama administration, who came at believers and faith-based organizations by force. "I do not mean to suggest that there is no hope for moral renewal in our country," Barr insists. "But we cannot sit back and just hope the pendulum is going to swing back toward sanity."

The free exercise of faith is critical to the foundation of America -- and the far-Left knows it. They'd like nothing more than to bury the history of our Christian identity and the Founders' intent under a mound of secular orthodoxy. But they won't succeed in a culture where parents commit to hand down these values and truisms. Only by forgetting our history will the zealots win.