U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Friday expressed his disdain for the spread of secularism in the U.S., blaming progressives and the decline of religion for a plethora of problems plaguing the nation, including drugs, violence, and mental illness during a speech at Notre Dame Law School.
“Among the militant-secularists are many so-called progressives. But where is the progress?,” Barr asked rhetorically. “The fact is that no secular creed has emerged capable of performing the role of religion,” he added.
Barr then took aim at several fundamental tenets of modern American society.
“This is not decay. 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’s apparent scapegoating of secular society alarmed several legal scholars and academics who perceived the speech as antithetical to his role as Attorney General.
Heidi Feldman, a professor at Georgetown Law specializing in ethics, political philology, and legal theory, said Saturday that Barr’s comments evinced a fundamental misunderstanding of fundamental constitutional principles upon which the U.S. was founded.
“Things Bill Barr apparently does not understand religious freedom; secularism; the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of free speech, freedom of assembly, and religious liberty and how these interrelate,” Professor Feldman wrote in response to Barr’s speech. “Incredible that a law school would have such a legal know-nothing to speak,” she added.
In a more ominous reaction, NYU historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, who specializes in fascism and authoritarian leaders, said the language in Barr’s speech pulled directly from historic authoritarian regimes in countering public dissent.
“This is not democracy. This is the language of authoritarianism, which has used state power to crush ‘organized destruction’ for 100 years,” she tweeted, adding, “Barr is gearing up for something.”
Courthouse News reporter Adam Klasfeld pointed out the irony of a U.S. Attorney General making a speech seemingly at odds with basic tenets of free speech.
“The top prosecutor of the United States — a secular nation with no state religion, and whose legislators are forbidden to establish one under the First Amendment of its Constitution — slams ‘secularists and their allies,’” he tweeted.
Congressman Ted Lieu, a perennial antagonist of the Trump administration, took to Twitter to harangue Barr for seemingly espousing the virtues of an ecclesiocratic form of government.
“I’m just a simple Catholic. But even I know your job is to enforce the law, not the Bible,” Lieu tweeted Saturday morning.” “We are a Constitutional Republic, not a theocracy. Do your job instead of being a full on conspiracy theorist.”
[image via MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty/Images]