Notre Dame, Indiana—It may turn out to be the philosophical equivalent of “the shot heard around the world.” That is just how powerful and just how good the speech given by U.S. Attorney General William Barr was at the University of Notre Dame’s School of Law. His topic: religious liberty in America. Ironically, this spectacular speech was given less than twenty-four hours after lefty candidates spewed bigoted anti-religious threats at the CNN LGBTQ Town Hall in Los Angeles. The two events could not have been more different. Barr waxed eloquently about of the fundamental importance of religious freedom and its enduring importance. In contrast, the candidates at the CNN event almost gleefully boasted, as if trying to outdo each other, about how they would disrupt and dismantle religion, piece by piece. Barr’s winsome words were not a direct critique of the earlier CNN spectacle, but they were a fitting rebuke, nonetheless.
William Barr spoke of the consensus about the “centrality of religious liberty” starting with the founding era, in part because of the belief that religion was indispensable for sustaining a free government. He noted that these statesmen affirmed the Christian belief that because men, as fallen creatures, have the capacity for great evil, government should be limited. Therefore, in their experiment, they determined to put America’s future in the hands of its people.
But “[s]elf-government,” he explained, refers primarily to the capacity of each person to “restrain and govern themselves.” William Barr noted that the ability to restrain ourselves, comes ultimately from a “transcendent Supreme Being.” He quoted John Adams to make his point, “We have no government armed with the power which is capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” Religion, Barr argued, provides the restraint necessary for liberty to exist by giving us rules to live by in the form of a transcendent moral order of natural law, the violation of which leads to negative consequences.
Next he turned to acknowledge that religion has been under increasing attack in America during the past 50 years. He documented the steady erosion of the Judeo-Christian moral system by a concerted effort to drive it from the public square, with a concurrent rise of secular humanism and moral relativism. The result? Ballooning illegitimacy, family breakdown, growing depression and mental illness, increasing violence and a deadly drug epidemic. According to Barr, the diminution of the moral order has brought “immense suffering, wreckage, and misery.” Appearing to perhaps poke the CNN Town Hall participants, Barr said “Among these militant secularists are many so-called progressives. But where is the progress?” He decried the fact that, in spite of all of the claims of modern advancement, “no secular creed has emerged capable of performing the role of religion.” As I have pointed out before, the problem with many liberals is not just their stubborn utopianism, but their persistent moral blindness of confusing change with progress. As Barr point out, all change is not progress.
In the past, we have been able to count on cultural pendulum swings. But this time, Barr is concerned that we cannot count on self-correction. Why? Because of “the force, fervor and comprehensiveness of the assault on religion.” Because the left controls the cultural places of power (entertainment, academia, etc.) and is actively marshalling them to persistently assault religion and traditional values and silence opposing voices. “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.”
The Attorney General next pointed out that the state has become the alleviator of all consequences of our sin and moral failings, rather than addressing the underlying causes. Got sexual irresponsibility? Get an abortion. Drug addiction? Visit a safe needle site. Family breakdown? The state becomes your parent. Rather than solving problems, Barr points out, “we are underwriting them” and as a result we are becoming less free dependents of the state.
Specifically, Barr decried the way that governments are using the law “aggressively to force religious people to subscribe to practices and policies that are antithetical to their faith….irreligion and secular values are being forced on people of faith.” Examples Barr cited include the Obama Administration’s decision to force Catholic orders to fund contraceptive and abortifacient coverage (Little Sisters of the Poor). He also acknowledged how “California has sought to require pro-life pregnancy centers to provide notices of abortion rights,” referring to NIFLA v. Becerra, a case successfully resolved at the U.S. Supreme Court, where I served as co-counsel.
He acknowledged his boss has done a better job than the prior administration, [b]ecause this administration firmly supports accommodation of religion.” Barr noted that “the battleground has shifted to the states.” According to Barr, “Ground zero for these attacks on religion are the public schools.” Pause here for a second. The Attorney General of the United States believes that “the most serious challenge to religious liberty” is how secularists are undermining the passing on and teaching of our faith to our children by adopting comprehensive sexuality education curricula that are “incompatible with traditional religious principles….often without an opt out for religious families.” Barr listed several states, including California with our infamous “California Healthy Youth Act.” He called this state violation of parental rights a “monstrous invasion of religious liberty.” We here at the National Center for Law & Policy are in complete agreement, which is why we have dedicated increasing resources over the past three years to this civilization-threatening issue.
After mentioning other threats like Montana’s refusal to provide private school funds to religious schools (Blaine Amendments) and Indiana’s attempt to force Catholic schools to hire same-sex married teachers, Barr stressed the need of religious believers to remain personally faithful in this increasingly insane culture and the need to “place greater emphasis on the moral education of our children.” Can I get an Amen? “We cannot have a moral renaissance unless we succeed in passing the next generation our faith and values in full vigor.” As Barr was speaking at a law school, he urged faithful lawyers that they “must be vigilant to resist efforts by the forces of secularization to drive religious viewpoints from the public square and to impinge upon the free exercise of our faith.”
In stark contrast to Barr’s careful attention to history and civil rights, within 24 hours we were treated to the progressive/socialist democratic contenders at the CNN LGBTQ con-fab. There, first prize for most anti-religious bigoted statement of the evening goes to former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke. CNN’s Don Lemon asked him, “Do you think religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities, should they lose their tax exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?” O’Rourke quickly replied, “Yes. There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. So as President, we’re going to make that a priority and we’re going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.” Beto’s unequivocal statement unmasks the leftist’s hostility and hatred towards religion and should send a chill down the spine of every religious person in America. To Barr’s point, Beto’s coercive power play is nothing short of a bare-knuckled attempt to strike fear in the already timid faithful and drive religion from the public square. The power to tax is the power to destroy. Clearly, the destruction of religion is on the progressive menu.
Piling on to his sustained assault on religious freedom, Beto O’Rourke said that conversion therapy “should be illegal” because it is “tantamount to torture.” He said, “As president, we will seek to outlaw it everywhere in this country.” Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar agreed, stating that so-called conversion therapy should be illegal because it “makes no sense at all.” Klobuchar also said she would recognize a third gender marker option on a federal level.
Having worked with the former gay and former LGBTQ community for decades I can attest that Beto and Klobuchar are wrong here. In fact, what the left demonizes as “conversion therapy” is really non-coercive talk therapy, more aptly called “change allowing therapy,” which has actually helped thousands of people facing unwanted involving sexual orientation and gender identity struggles successfully address and overcome their problems in a redemptive way. As this therapy is often practiced by the faithful, freedom of speech, conscience and religion must be protected here. The bottom line is that people seeking help for unwanted sexual orientation and gender identity struggles must be free to hear about and experience the transformative power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I agree with U.S. Attorney General William Barr that religious freedom is a fundamental right, given to us by our Creator, which we dare not squander. We must rediscover the importance of religious freedom and fight the good fight of faith and freedom so that our children and grandchildren may continue to experience the blessings of liberty. William Barr has given us the gift of remembering what is truly important, one for which I am profoundly grateful.