President Donald Trump on Friday announced that he’s nominating William P. Barr to be the next attorney general of the United States. We’ve been looking into Barr’s record, and some troubling things have emerged.
Just last month, Barr joined former attorneys general Edwin Meese III and Michael B. Mukasey in a Washington Post column praising the views of Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general forced out by Trump. The three laud Sessions in part for his October 2017 directive “to all executive departments containing guidance for protecting religious expression.” The Sessions order, Americans United pointed out, is just a blueprint for using religion to discriminate. Americans United criticized the guidance for insisting that religious organizations have a right to take taxpayer money and discriminate against employees and the people they serve. The language, AU said, could give federal government workers the right to use their religious beliefs as a reason to discriminate and deny services to other Americans.
Some older statements by Barr are equally troubling. Barr, who served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush from November of 1991 until the end of Bush’s presidency early in 1993, gave at least two speeches in 1992 during which he attacked church-state separation and secular government.
Addressing a conference of governors on juvenile crime in Milwaukee on April 1, 1992, Barr blasted public schools for no longer providing moral instruction. He asserted that public schools had undergone a “moral lobotomy” and blamed it on “extremist notions of separation of church and state.”
About six months later, Barr struck again. During an Oct. 6, 1992, speech in Washington, D.C., to the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, a traditionalist Catholic group, Barr called for the imposition of “God’s law” in America.
“To the extent that a society’s moral culture is based on God’s law, it will guide men toward the best possible life,” Barr said. He also attacked “modern secularists” for supposedly ushering in cultural decline, remarking, “The secularists of today are clearly fanatics.”
Once out of office, Barr continued promoting these themes. In a 1995 essay he penned titled “Legal Issues In A New Political Order,” Barr asserted, “Traditional Judeo-Christian doctrine maintains that there is a transcendent moral order with objective standards of right and wrong that exists independent of man’s will. This transcendent order flows from God’s eternal law – the divine will by which the whole of creation is ordered.”
In the essay, Barr blamed the alleged moral decline of America on the rights movements of the 1960s, asserting that “a steady and mounting assault on traditional values” spawned “soaring juvenile crime, widespread drug addiction and skyrocketing venereal diseases.”
Elsewhere in the essay, Barr bemoaned no-fault divorce laws, legal abortion and laws designed to “restrain sexual immorality, obscenity or euthanasia.” He also attacked the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lee v. Weisman, a 1992 ruling that upheld the high court’s decisions from 1962 and ’63 barring public schools from compelling children to take part in prayer and worship.
(I should note that Barr’s paper, originally published in Catholic Lawyer, is poor scholarship. It contains a fake quote by James Madison lauding the Ten Commandments.)
So what’s Barr’s answer to all of this? He proposed that Catholic education is the solution – and that you pay for it.
“From a legal standpoint, our initial focus should be on education and efforts to strengthen and finance education,” observed Barr. “This means vouchers at the state level and ultimately at the federal level to support parental choice in education. We should press at every turn for the inclusion of religious institutions.”
Barr seems to be uncomfortable with things like secular government, church-state separation, religious pluralism and indeed the realities of modern life. He will face confirmation hearings in the Senate. In light of his alarming past statements, members need to ask him some tough questions.
Photo: Screenshot from C-SPAN.