February 2019 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

Americans United in December joined dozens of civil rights, religious and other groups in expressing concern over President Donald Trump’s nomination of William P. Barr to be U.S. attorney general.

The letter, sent under the auspices of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, was endorsed by 74 organizations and was sent to Senate leadership.

The groups expressed serious concerns about Barr’s nomination, asserting that Barr’s track record raises questions about his willingness to vigorously enforce our nation’s civil rights laws.

“Civil rights must remain a top priority for members of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Mr. Barr comes before them for his confirmation hearing in the new year,” observed the letter. “Mr. Barr bears the burden of demonstrating he will not continue the civil rights rollbacks we have seen during this administration. In addition, senators must secure assurances that Mr. Barr will recuse himself from the Russia investi­gation in light of his past comments, in order to prevent an appearance of impropriety.”

Americans United has been researching Barr’s record and finds it troubling. AU noted that in November, 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.

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.”

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.

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.”

Senate hearings on the Barr nom­ination were wrapping up as this issue of Church & State went to press.