Attorney General William Barr is at it again.
Appearing on a radio show hosted by New York Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan last week, Barr tore into church-state separation once more, this time blaming “militant secularists” for a host of problems.
“I feel today religion is being driven out of the marketplace of ideas, and there’s an organized, militant secular effort to drive religion out of our lives,” Barr said. “To me, the problem today is not that religious people are trying to impose their views on non-religious people. It’s the opposite. It’s that militant secularists are trying to impose their values on religious people, and they’re not accommodating the freedom of religion of people of faith.”
When you read something like this, you really can’t help but ask yourself a pertinent question: What planet does Barr live on?
For the past three years, the Trump administration has been laboring to turn religious freedom into an instrument of discrimination, a device to treat some people (LGBTQ folks, women, Muslims and other religious minorities, nonbelievers, etc.) as if they have second-class status.
This administration has repeatedly sought to deny people access to contraceptives because some bosses claim it offends their religious beliefs. It has backed religious discrimination in taxpayer-funded foster care and adoption programs. It has issued rules that put the most vulnerable members of our society – the poor, the homeless, those grappling with addictions – at risk by stripping away their protections in “faith-based” programs. It has traded in crude stereotypes against Muslims and undermined their right to travel to the U.S. It has argued that government has the right to display towering crosses, the central symbol of the Christian faith, on public property, and charge the taxpayer for it. It kicked transgender people out of the military because the Religious Right doesn’t like them. It supports immersing houses of worship in partisan politics. It has worked to end reproductive freedoms. It told the Supreme Court that taxpayers should be compelled to support religious groups and religious schools.
The administration did these things – yet we’re to believe that “militant secularists” are the problem? That “militant secularists” are the ones trying to force their views onto people?
Barr, like his boss Trump, is a master gaslighter. He repeatedly asserts that things are the opposite of the way they really are. In his strange world, up is down, black is white and you can’t believe the evidence of your own eyes.
Key to this is Barr’s use of words – and how he defines them. To Christian nationalists, “militant” is anyone who dares to stand up to them and expose their theocratic agenda for the freedom-crushing miasma that it is. And a “secularist” to Barr and his allies must be someone who hates religion.
Let’s consider those two words. Are we at AU militant? If that term means we’re going to forcefully and powerfully oppose the schemes of Barr, Trump and their Christian nationalist allies to merge religion and government, then yes, we’re militant. Are we secularists? Sure, we are because we back secular government – just like our Founding Fathers. But that in no way makes us anti-religion – quite the opposite. Some of AU’s members are believers and some are not, but all support secular government because they know it’s the best vehicle for protecting the rights of everyone, from the most committed Christian to the most ardent atheist.
So, in the end, what Barr intends as a smear is actually a badge of honor. Let’s wear it with pride as we remind Barr at every turn that millions of Americans oppose his narrow vision for our nation and will fight it with every legal and moral means at our disposal.
We hope you’ll get involved. In light of this administration’s relentless assault on church-state separation, the nation could use a few more militant secularists right now.
Photo: William Barr speaking at the University of Notre Dame. Screenshot from The Wall Street Journal.