Attorney General Barr Rages Against Secularist “Assault” on Religion

Barr blames society’s problems, including “a deadly drug epidemic,” on a lack of faith.

Attorney General William Barr delivers remarks at a vigil for law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty on May 14, 2019 in Washington, DC. Shane T. Mccoy via ZUMA

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Experts blame grim economic conditions and the predatory practices of pharmaceutical companies for the current opioid epidemic. Unrest and violence on the part of young men is often attributed to economic conditions and accessibility of fringe ideologies online. But Attorney General Bill Barr apparently has a different theory for both of these problems: not enough religion.

In a speech at University of Notre Dame’s law school Friday, Barr blamed “secularists” and “so-called progressives” for wreaking havoc on American society. Barr’s depiction of a war between the non-religious and people of faith shocked legal experts, who saw Barr’s defense of religious freedom as an assault on the First Amendment’s protection against the government’s establishment of any religion. 

“This is not decay,” Barr said. “This is organized destruction. Secularists and their allies have marshaled all the forces of mass communication, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion & traditional values.” (Barr spent years profiting off of these same industries he is attacking. He served as general counsel at Verizon for eight years, held a had a paid position on the board of Time Warner for nine, and represented telecoms giant GTE in the 1990s.)

 

In his address Friday, Barr thundered against what he described as a “moral upheaval.” “Virtually every measure of social pathology continues to gain ground,” he said. “Along with the wreckage of the family we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence and the deadly drug epidemic.”

Barr pointed particularly to public schools, according to an account of the speech from the Indianapolis Star. “Ground zero for these attacks on religion are the schools,” Barr said. “To me this is the most serious challenge to religious liberty today.” There is decades of Supreme Court caselaw removing religion from public schools because the First Amendment bans the government from establishing or giving primacy to a religion.

This isn’t the first time Barr has decried secular culture. He has been an advocate for more religion in American government, schools, and law for decades and has a history of involvement with conservative religious groups including the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which litigated the Hobby Lobby case that allowed employers not to cover contraception coverage to employees. In 1995, for example, Barr penned an essay blaming “a steady and mounting assault on traditional values” since the 1960s for “soaring juvenile crime, widespread drug addiction and skyrocketing venereal diseases.”

Barr’s comments come as he is under a cloud of scandal for his active involvement in trying to find evidence of the unproven theory that Ukraine colluded with Democrats during the 2016 election—an effort that took Barr to Italy this year and may have dragged him into the Ukraine scandal that set of an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. 

On Twitter, legal experts reacted to Barr’s speech with dismay.

 

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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