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October 23, 2019 (American Thinker) — Attorney General William Barr is much in the news lately for his alleged role in the political contretemps over impeachment and Ukraine. But thanks to an address the attorney general gave at the University of Notre Dame Law School last weekend, stories on that subject have been displaced by a round of bitter denunciations of Barr for going to South Bend and delivering a “histrionic” speech that shows him as being “neck-deep in extremist Catholic institutions.”

What could the serene, almost sedate General Barr have said that drove certain left-of-center pundits into the rhetorical ditch? The primary themes of Barr's speech were social decline and the attack on religious liberty by certain progressive forces in American life. Barr linked these themes, centering his remarks on a famous aphorism by John Adams. Adams wrote: “We have no Government armed with 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.”

Adams's message went both to the nature of a republic of limited and enumerated authority and the need for a populace who largely accomplish the tasks of self-government on their own — not by rote submission to a raft of punitive laws and omnipresent police, but, Barr said, “by the capacity of each individual to restrain and govern themselves.”

While abortion was not the primary theme of Barr's address, he touched upon it as an example of the way social decay is met by a state that does not deal with underlying causes, but instead seeks “to mitigate the social costs of misconduct. “So the reaction,” Barr said, “to growing illegitimacy is not sexual responsibility, but abortion.”

Barr pulled no punches, but labeled the patrons of this social change “secularists” and “progressives” who “have been continually seeking to eliminate laws that reflect traditional moral norms.” By legislative steps and more often by judicial decree, these social forces imposed legalized abortion and now euthanasia on the nation.

Barr went on to discuss the ultimate result of this aggressive trend: assaults on religious liberty designed to compel people of religious or moral conviction to participate in and promote practices they abhor. On this point, Barr's critics went especially berserk. A writer for The Nation complained of Barr's involvement in such “extremist” Catholic groups as Opus Dei; the Catholic Information Center in the heart of Washington, D.C.; and, of all groups, the Knights of Columbus. The writer pronounced Opus Dei “ultraright and secretive.” You can check out the group's “secretive” website and programs here.

A Washington Post columnist found the Barr speech “terrifying” and a call for the abolition of the separation of church and state. But Barr's examples had everything to do with attempts by government to coerce religious people to implement portions of the progressive creed and to abolish moral norms. In the past decade, Barr noted, the federal government has sought to require the Little Sisters of the Poor to provide contraceptives and abortifacients in their employee health plans. He decried the attempt by the state of California to force pro-life pregnancy help centers there “to provide notices of abortion rights.”

The Nation magazine went so far as to attack General Barr's involvement with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, scorning the group for its role in defending the family-owned company Hobby Lobby for its stance opposing health insurance for abortifacient drugs and devices. No accusation could better encapsulate the fundamental flaw in the activist assault on religious freedom. Supporters of the Becket Fund know well that it is not interested in defending the rights of only a narrow swath of religious Americans. The firm has defended and will defend the liberties of Sikhs and Muslims, Protestants and Catholics, Mormons and Native Americans, of people of every creed or none, on one and the same First Amendment foundation: that our Constitution permits neither an establishment of religion nor limits on its free exercise.

In the modern era, Notre Dame has been the site of major addresses by Catholic leaders, from Mario Cuomo to Henry Hyde to Mary Ann Glendon and now to Attorney General William Barr. This latest address takes its place among the others as a must-read for every thoughtful American.

Chuck Donovan is president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research and education arm of Susan B. Anthony List. He was legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee more than three decades, worked as a writer for President Reagan, helped lead the Family Research Council for nearly two decades, and most recently was a senior research fellow in religion and civil society at The Heritage Foundation.

This post was originally published at the American Thinker on October 18, 2019, and is reprinted with permission.