AG Barr once again attacks secularism

Bill BarrAttorney General William Barr has yet again blamed the lack of religiosity in America for all of the country’s problems.

In remarks at the 2020 National Religious Broadcasters Convention yesterday, Feb. 26, Barr grossly misrepresented the American Founders’ views on the importance of religion, while giving lip service to the separation between state and church. He bizarrely claimed:

“Experience teaches that, to be strong enough to control willful human beings, moral values must be based on authority independent of man’s will. In other words, they must flow from a transcendent Supreme Being. Men are far likelier to obey rules that come from God than to abide by the abstract outcome of an ad hoc utilitarian calculus.”

Barr made it clear he does not think that laws should be based on trying to make the world a better place. Instead, he thinks that laws should seek to “control” humans by convincing them that if they do not obey the rules, they are displeasing a “Supreme Being.” There is a word for this approach to lawmaking: theocracy. In Barr’s case, he is a proponent of the Christian Nationalism version of theocracy.

In his address to the religious broadcasters, Barr castigated secular government as “totalitarian democracy,” “based on the idea that man is naturally good.” He defined “totalitarian democracy” as “almost always secular and materialistic.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation condemns Barr’s distorted reading of secular government. America’s secular government allows people of all religious beliefs, and none at all, to work together to make the country better for everyone, without fear that the majority religious sect will impose their rules on the rest of the populace. Trying to control citizens with rules based on religion is thoroughly un-American and unconstitutional. It’s an embarrassing disgrace for the attorney general to endorse such an idea.

It is equally appalling that Barr implicitly condemns more than half a century of firm court precedent guaranteeing civil rights and liberties to both federal and state citizens (based on post-Civil War amendments to the U.S. Constitution). This includes voting rights, privacy rights such as abortion and contraception and LGBTQ equality, secular public education and other such basic liberties. Civil rights by definition should not depend on the state in which one happens to live — but that’s what Barr espouses when he condemns secular, utilitarian federal laws.

The western world has tried what Barr is proposing. The centuries-long humanitarian catastrophe that resulted — aptly called the “Dark Ages” — is what made the Founders of this country realize that religion and government should never be mixed. We must insist on exactly what Barr is attacking: laws that are aimed at making the world a better place for everyone, justified not by some religion’s promises of an eternal reward, but by the best available data and an appeal to universal moral principles. We must reject all calls for basing laws on religious doctrine. It’s dismaying and shameful that the U.S. attorney general, who is tasked with enforcing the law, is an enemy of true religious liberty.

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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