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

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

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.

 

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate