Attorney General William Barr kicked up a storm last weekend — by stating the obvious. In a speech delivered at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana on Saturday, the attorney general pointed out that a rising tide of “militant secularism” is waging war on religious communities from coast to coast. Not content to live and let live, they seek to stamp out religious practices with which they disagree. Their assault on religion and the religious is dangerous, and represents a profound departure from the principles of religious freedom on which the United States was founded.
Attorney General Barr’s real beef was not with atheists or agnostics, as some people have misinterpreted his remarks to have meant. 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. Attitudes like these are a violation of the principles enshrined in the U.S. Constitution — and indeed, in the American spirit.
“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,” he said. This is plainly true, as states going after bakers who would rather not cater same sex weddings indicates. So too did the Obama administration’s decision to force Christian business owners to pay for birth control and abortifacients for their employees.
“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,” Mr. Barr added. “These instruments are used not only to affirmatively promote secular orthodoxy, but also drown out and silence opposing voices, and to attack viciously and hold up to ridicule any dissenters,” he added. Again, any casual observer of the news and the popular culture would have to agree this is the case. The attorney general also argued convincingly that the generally rising hostility to faith has contributed to various forms of social dysfunction, including a skyrocketing out-of-wedlock birthrate and skyrocketing suicide rates.
Mr. Barr — the nation’s top law enforcer — also pointed out that our own secular laws draw heavily from the Judeo-Christian tradition. “Judeo-Christian moral standards are the ultimate utilitarian rules for human conduct. They reflect the rules that are best for man, not in the by and by, but in the here and now,” he observed. “Religion helps promote moral discipline within society. Because man is fallen, we don’t automatically conform ourselves to moral rules even when we know they are good for us.” Religious values and laws work in tandem, instilling virtue and promoting character.
It is perhaps a sign of our decayed age that Mr. Barr’s simple truisms kicked up such a controversy — a spokesman for the Freedom From Religion Foundation charged that the attorney general’s “rant was un-American.” But their sputtering rage seemed only to confirm what the Mr. Barr had said.