Las Vegas Sun

November 21, 2019

Currently: 53° — Complete forecast

Sun editorial:

Barr’s speech on religious freedom tramples on our founders’ vision

Last week, U.S. Attorney General William Barr delivered a speech that was intended as a defense for religious freedom. Its implications, though, were 180 degrees different.

Appearing at the University of Notre Dame Law School, Barr claimed that the root cause of crime and social problems in the U.S. was an orchestrated attack on religion by “militant secularists.” He argued that the solution was for the nation to adhere to Judeo-Christian values, and for government to work toward that end at every level.

He further urged the audience to fight back against the “so-called ‘progressives’ ” he blamed for spurring a rise in drug dependency, mental illness and violence. Barr, a Catholic, also vilified public schools as “ground zero” of this supposed assault on religion, and hinted that state funding for private religious schools should be increased as a consequence.

“This is not decay,” Barr said. “It is organized destruction.”

In short, Barr argued for religious freedom, but only for Christians.

This wasn’t simply a leader promoting the societal benefits of religious values and observance of faith, or expressing concerns about secularism.

It was the top law enforcement officer of the U.S., whose duty is to uphold all parts of the Constitution and ensure equal protection for all Americans under the law, attacking the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state in this nation and demonizing large swaths of the population who are doing absolutely nothing illegal.

If you exercise your constitutionally protected freedom of religion by choosing not to observe a religion, Barr targeted you. If you respect the foundational tenet of keeping government and religion apart, including in schools, you’re also on the list.

This is something straight out of “The Handmaid’s Tale” — a top government official essentially endorsing the establishment of an evangelical Christian theocracy in America.

Barr wasn’t the only Trump administration official promoting the intertwining of Christianity and the government in recent days. President Donald Trump did it himself, telling a gathering of evangelicals and other conservatives that Judeo-Christian values were the antidote to secularists working to “weaken the American family and indoctrinate your children.”

“They resent and disdain faithful Americans who hold fast to our nation’s historic values, and, if given the chance, they would use every instrument of government power, including the IRS, to try to shut you down,” Trump said.

Hearing Trump profess to embrace Christian values is galling to the core, and it’s offensive that he has support among evangelicals. This man is a walking catalog of sins and human downfall: misogynistic, profane, greedy, narcissistic, intolerant, unprotective of the helpless or of the Earth and by all appearances incapable of forgiveness — perhaps the central Christian tenet. He is not an example that responsible, respectful Americans want their children to follow.

The scapegoating that he and his administration are carrying out is not only morally reprehensible, it’s based on nonsense. About one-fifth of Americans identify themselves as not observant of any faith — that’s 66 million people. The vast majority of those individuals live lawfully and, like their Christian friends and family members, follow the Golden Rule. It’s simply ridiculous to think those millions of non-observant Americans are on some organized bent to subvert religion and ruin the morals of the nation.

The same goes for the millions of Americans who peacefully practice Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and the richly diverse array of other religions not based on Judeo-Christian tradition.

Beyond that, the crime rate has fallen drastically in recent decades in the U.S., even though there’s been a decrease in the number of Americans who regularly attend church services or identify themselves as followers of any particular faith.

Then there are the members of all faiths who recognize the importance of separating religion from government and public schools. They’re not out to destroy the system, they simply understand that it’s designed to prevent the government from mandating the practice of any single type of religion. In other words, they see the logic that James Madison expressed in 1785 when he asked: “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?”

Let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with elected leaders and government employees being observant followers of faith, and practicing it under appropriate circumstances.

But calling for the government to impose Christianity on Americans and punish nonbelievers is a step down a very dark path.