Barr stirs rage among athe­ists, sec­u­lar­ists Says Judeo-Chris­tian faith is U.S. foun­da­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr of­fered a with­er­ing evis­cer­a­tion of anti-re­li­gious sen­ti­ment this month, de­fend­ing the cen­tral role of Judeo-Chris­tian moral stan­dards in Amer­i­can democ­racy, ac­cus­ing “mil­i­tant sec­u­lar­ists” of an as­sault on re­li­gion that has be­come as in­tol­er­ant as re­li­gions they crit­i­cize.

“Those who defy the creed risk a fig­u­ra­tive burn­ing at the stake — so­cial, ed­u­ca­tional, and pro­fes­sional os­tracism and ex­clu­sion waged through law­suits and sav­age so­cial me­dia cam­paigns,” he said.

“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.”

Mr. Barr’s speech, de­liv­ered at the Univer­sity of Notre Dame Oct. 11, gained trac­tion last week as the video cir­cu­lated on­line and de­fend­ers and de­trac­tors lined up. Athe­ists called it un­var­nished “big­otry,” while Mr. Barr’s sup­port­ers said it was one of the most im­por­tant speeches on re­li­gion by a ma­jor govern­ment of­fi­cial in years.

The at­tor­ney gen­eral, a Catholic, said the coun­try’s founders saw re­li­gious lib­erty as the scaf­fold­ing on which they hung the govern­ment, pro­mot­ing the moral dis­ci­pline that made lim­ited govern­ment pos­si­ble.

Mr. Barr said sec­u­lar­ists have turned that on its head, eras­ing those stan­dards and re­plac­ing them with cheap sub­sti­tu­tions that fail the test.

“The fact is that no sec­u­lar creed has emerged ca­pa­ble of per­form­ing the role of re­li­gion,” he said. “What we call ‘val­ues’ today are re­ally noth­ing more than mere sen­ti­men­tal­ity, still draw­ing on the va­por trails of Chris­tian­ity.”

Mr. Barr was fol­lowed a day later by Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, who in a speech in Ten­nessee de­tailed his own ef­forts to live his Chris­tian faith in pub­lic life.

Athe­ists and sec­u­lar­ists were out­raged, say­ing the Trump team was em­brac­ing a dan­ger­ous “Chris­tian na­tion­al­ism.”

“The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fla­grant pro­mo­tion of Chris­tian ide­ol­ogy is a gift to Chris­tian na­tion­al­ists,” said Roy Speck­hardt, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Amer­i­can Hu­man­ist As­so­ci­a­tion. “This re­li­gious fa­voritism is the kind of abuse of their duty to rep­re­sent all Amer­i­cans equally that demon­strates how fun­da­men­tal­ism is the driv­ing force of this ad­min­is­tra­tion’s agenda.”

Re­li­gion’s role in pub­lic life, usu­ally part of the po­lit­i­cal back­ground, has emerged as a sur­prise di­vid­ing line.

The Demo­cratic pri­mary de­bate Oct. 15 was pep­pered with com­mer­cials from the Free­dom from Re­li­gion Foun­da­tion, fea­tur­ing Ron Rea­gan, son of the late pres­i­dent, pro­claim­ing him­self an “un­abashed athe­ist.”

“I’m alarmed by the in­tru­sions of re­li­gion into our sec­u­lar govern­ment,” he said, echo­ing the “sep­a­ra­tion of church and state” mantra that school­child­ren learn.

Mr. Barr said that is a mod­ern — and dan­ger­ous — dis­tor­tion of history.

He said the founders, in writ­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion, re­jected a so­ci­ety with a weak moral char­ac­ter, which would have needed an over­bear­ing co­er­cive govern­ment, and in­stead counted on a peo­ple with strong Judeo-Chris­tian be­liefs that could gov­ern them­selves with­out tyranny.

“This is re­ally what was meant by ‘self-govern­ment,’” Mr. Barr said. “In short, in the Framers’ view, free govern­ment was only suit­able and sus­tain­able for a re­li­gious peo­ple — a peo­ple who rec­og­nized that there was a tran­scen­dent moral or­der an­tecedent to both the state and man-made law and who had the dis­ci­pline to con­trol them­selves ac­cord­ing to those en­dur­ing prin­ci­ples.”

Mr. Barr said re­li­gious val­ues were tested in past eras as well and the pen­du­lum has al­ways swung back. “Pe­ri­ods of moral en­trench­ment fol­low pe­ri­ods of ex­cess,” he said.

But the cur­rent as­sault is so fe­ro­cious that it has bro­ken that equa­tion, he said.

“This is not de­cay; it is or­ga­nized de­struc­tion. 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,” he said.

“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.

The Free­dom From Re­li­gion Foun­da­tion said Mr. Barr got it wrong from front to back.

“At the most ba­sic level, Barr’s rant was un-Amer­i­can,” said Andrew L. Sei­del, direc­tor of strate­gic re­sponse at the foun­da­tion. “Amer­ica in­vented the sep­a­ra­tion of state and church. It’s an Amer­i­can orig­i­nal and our unique con­tri­bu­tion to po­lit­i­cal science.”

De­spite his grim di­ag­no­sis, Mr. Barr gave slim reme­dies, though he vowed to use the Jus­tice Depart­ment to de­fend re­li­gious lib­erty.

That in­cludes a case the depart­ment helped ar­gue last year when the Supreme Court up­held a nearly cen­tury-old cross me­mo­rial on pub­lic land in Mary­land. The Amer­i­can Hu­man­ist As­so­ci­a­tion had ar­gued that the cross was too much of an en­tan­gle­ment of govern­ment and re­li­gion, but the court re­jected that.

In a key opin­ion, Jus­tice Sa­muel A. Al­ito Jr. said such mon­u­ments have the pre­sump­tion of be­ing le­gal and tear­ing them down could even be seen as anti-re­li­gious.

The court is con­sid­er­ing an­other case in­volv­ing re­li­gious schools’ abil­ity to ac­cess govern­ment funds made avail­able to other pri­vate schools.

The Free­dom from Re­li­gion Foun­da­tion said that case could be the most im­por­tant church-state rul­ing in a half cen­tury.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr stirred up a firestorm with his speech on the na­tion’s re­li­gious foun­da­tion. The Free­dom From Re­li­gion Foun­da­tion called it “un-Amer­i­can” and said Mr. Barr got it wrong.

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