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October 16, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr delivered forceful remarks at the University of Notre Dame on Friday regarding the defense of religious liberty against “militant secularists,” for which a chorus of left-wing media voices have denounced him.

“From the Founding Era onward, there was strong consensus about the centrality of religious liberty in the United States,” Barr said in his speech. “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.”

“By and large, the Founding generation’s view of human nature was drawn from the Classical Christian tradition,” he explained. “These practical Statesmen understood that individuals, while having the potential for great good, also had the capacity for great evil. Men are subject to powerful passions and appetites, and, if unrestrained, are capable of ruthlessly riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large.”

“No society can exist without some means for restraining individual rapacity,” Barr continued, with the Founders’ chosen means being a “social order” whose values “flow from a transcendent Supreme Being,” rather than the “coercive power of government.”

He argued that those values helped America to become an unparalleled force for liberty and human progress, but are now at risk from the “steady erosion of our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system and a comprehensive effort to drive it from the public square” by “militant secularists.”

“By any honest assessment, the consequences of this moral upheaval have been grim,” Barr lamented. “Virtually every measure of social pathology” – out-of-wedlock births, substance abuse, depression and mental illness, suicide, and more – “continues to gain ground.”

The secularization of America “is not decay; it is organized destruction,” Barr charged. “Secularists, and their allies among the ‘progressives,’ have marshalled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values. 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.”

This, in turn, has transformed the state from safeguarding liberty to “mitigate the social costs of personal misconduct and irresponsibility,” he said. “So the reaction to growing illegitimacy is not sexual responsibility, but abortion. The reaction to drug addiction is safe injection sites. The solution to the breakdown of the family is for the State to set itself up as the ersatz husband for single mothers and the ersatz father to their children.”

Despite this grim picture, Barr told the audience there is “hope for moral renewal in our country,” but it will take challenging work, and concerned Americans “cannot sit back and just hope the pendulum is going to swing back toward sanity.” 

He called for “greater emphasis on the moral education of our children” to instill the next generation with “our faith and values in full vigor,” which also requires a “resurgence of Catholic education” and “more generally religiously affiliated schools,” as well as more vigilance and involvement against efforts to “drive religious viewpoints from the public square and to impinge upon the free exercise of our faith.

“I can assure you that, as long as I am Attorney General, the Department of Justice will be at the forefront of this effort – ready to fight for the most cherished of our liberties – the freedom to live according to our faith,” Barr pledged.

Various left-wing media figures attacked Barr for his speech, from the New York Times’ Paul Krugman claiming Barr was trying to enlist God as “Trump’s co-conspirator” to the Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell writing that Barr’s speech (which was based on the Founders’ view of the relationship between faith and civil society) “appeared to be a tacit endorsement of theocracy.” Activists estimated in the “dozens” gathered on campus Friday to protest the speech.

Notre Dame’s student newspaper The Observer quoted one law student in attendance as finding Barr’s speech “bizarre” and supposedly inconsistent with the First Amendment, and another who thought Barr “did a really great job,” particularly in articulating his “insight into the idea of self-governance and how that plays a role in how we view responsibility and moral accountability.”

Responding to the speech and its criticisms from the Left, The American Conservative’s Rod Dreher marveled that his critics were reacting so heatedly to a speech which “said nothing that isn’t part of the standard rhetoric of American civic religion.”

“As we religious conservatives are thinking about how to vote in the election next fall, we should ponder the fact that under Donald Trump, as awful as he is in so many ways, a man of William Barr’s convictions is heading up the Department of Justice,” Dreher observed. “Thank God Bill Barr is there. It is inconceivable that any Democratic president would put a man like him in charge of the Justice Department. In fact, we are getting a good idea that a Democratic president would likely choose his precise opposite.”