U.S. Attorney General William Barr offers address on Religious Freedom

William Barr

United States Attorney General William Barr was invited to campus to speak to students and faculty of the Notre Dame Law School and the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture about religious freedom. Though the event was limited to students and faculty, news of the invitation was met with public outcry and protest.

The dissension was based largely on Barr’s alleged role in the failed impeachment inquiry. In anticipation of the visit, Law School Dean G. Marcus Cole issued a statement underscoring the importance of free speech in academia.

He wrote, “Notre Dame Law School will neither endorse nor condemn invited speakers. An institution of higher education must be a place where controversial ideas and points of view are expressed, heard, and discussed.”

And so, on October 11, Barr, a Catholic whose youngest daughter is an alumna of the University, spoke on the importance of Judeo-Christian values as an underpinning for American democracy, both historically and in modernity.

The founding of the United States was rooted in Christian traditions, Barr argued, tracing the history of religion and American government and starting with the founders of the United States. Barr argued that when they endeavored to begin the experiment of democracy, they had to trust that if the people were to self-govern, they would best do so by an agreed upon moral code, which at the time was a shared and fervent faith. Barr said, “The problem is not that religion is being forced on others. The problem is that irreligion and secular values are being forced on people of faith.”

In the last 50 years, he said, the Judeo- Christian moral system has been under attack as rates of secularism and moral relativism have risen. So too have rates of births out of wedlock, depression, suicide, violence, and drug use.

“I will not dwell on all the bitter results of the new secular age. Suffice it to say that the campaign to destroy the traditional moral order has brought with it immense suffering, wreckage, and misery. And yet, the forces of secularism, ignoring these tragic results, press on with even greater militancy.”

Speaking to the room’s prospective lawyers, he said, “Finally, as lawyers, we should be particularly active in the struggle that is being waged against religion on the legal plane,” noting the legalization of abortion, euthanasia, and legislation requiring individuals to practice in objection to their faith.

He continued, “We must be vigilant to resist efforts by the forces of secularization to drive religious viewpoints from the public square and to impinge upon the free exercise of our faith. I can assure you that, as long as I am Attorney General, the Department of Justice will be at the forefront of this effort, ready to fight for the most cherished of our liberties: the freedom to live according to our faith.”