Barr at Notre Dame offers Christian nationalist apologia, charges FFRF

Bill BarrThe Freedom From Religion Foundation is condemning Attorney General Bill Barr’s recent fact-free speech at Notre Dame.

“Bill Barr’s bigotry, historical illiteracy, and Christian nationalism were on full display last week,” notes FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor. When President Trump nominated Barr, FFRF spearheaded a letter with other secular groups that cautioned the Senate about Barr’s dangerous Christian nationalist ideology.

Barr, embroiled in the Ukraine controversy that has led to Trump’s impeachment inquiry in the House, spoke at Notre Dame on Friday, Oct. 11, ostensibly on “religious freedom,” which Christian nationalists like Barr have been trying to weaponize and redefine for years. Their goal is to morph this personal right to freedom of religion into an unlimited right to invoke religious liberty to trample the rights of other citizens.

Amid the rhetoric meant to weaponize religious freedom, Barr’s hostility and fear toward non-Christian Americans stood out. On Friday, his comments included:

  • “I think we all recognize that over the past 50 years, religion has been under increasing attack. On the one hand we’ve seen the steady erosion of our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system and a comprehensive effort to drive it from the public square. On the other hand,we see the growing ascendency of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism.”
  • “First is the force, fervor, and comprehensiveness of the assault on organized religion we are experiencing today. 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.” [Note: Barr spent eight years as general counsel for Verizon.]
  • “I won’t dwell on the bitter results of the new secular age, suffice to say that the campaign to destroy the traditional moral order has coincided, and I believe has brought with it, immense misery. And yet the forces of secularism ignoring these tragic results press on with even greater militancy. Among the militant secularists are many so-called progressives, but where is the progress?”
  • “Modern secularists dismiss this idea of morality as sort of otherworldly superstition imposed by killjoy clergy. But, in fact, Judeo-Christian standards are the ultimate utilitarian rules for human conduct.”
  • “Ground zero for these attacks on religion are the schools. To me this is the most serious challenge to religious liberty today.”

The media were escorted out of the event for the question-and-answer period, so for all we know, Barr said far worse during that session.

Barr talked about using the Department of Justice to weaponize religious liberty, including attempting to ensure that private religious schools have a constitutional right to access taxpayer money. He referred to a case the U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering and for which FFRF is writing a brief, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which could prove to be the most consequential state-church case in half a century.

Barr also spoke extensively about the founding of America and how it is based on Judeo-Christian principles, an argument FFRF’s Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel has resoundingly crushed in his new book, The Founding Myth.

“At the most basic level, Barr’s rant was un-American,” explains Seidel. “America invented the separation of state and church. It’s an American original and our unique contribution to political science. I am proud of that fact. Barr wants to rewrite that history with lies about a Christian founding and Christian values. It’s shameful.”

Barr’s Notre Dame rant is nothing new
Barr’s Notre Dame talk was a rerun of speeches he gave in 1992. However, he appears to have omitted one of his old tropes. Barr once excused Christopher Columbus’s evil actions in part because Columbus was a Christian.

One of the moments that best illuminates Barr’s worldview came in 1992 during his first stint as attorney general when the Catholic League presented him an award at the “In Defense of Western Civilization” conference, a gathering to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage. Despite the media blackout, it was reported that “Barr blamed secularism for virtually every contemporary societal problem.”

FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, who is a member of the Lenni Lenape (Delaware Indian) tribe of Native Americans, warned months ago: “Given his disdain for secular Americans and his willingness to excuse some of the most lawless and immoral actions this continent has seen because the criminal was Catholic, FFRF is concerned that Barr will not be the fair and just chief law-enforcement officer our country needs.” He was prescient.

Over the decades, Barr’s fealty to Christian nationalism and his disdain for our country’s founding secular principles have been constant. These are worrisome perspectives for someone in his position.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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