Attorney General William Barr appeared this week on SiriusXM’s The Catholic Channel, where he was interviewed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan and his co-host Father Dave Dwyer. Barr’s attack on “militant secularists,” whom he portrayed as enemies of religious freedom, echoed remarks he made in a now-notorious speech at Notre Dame in October, in which he exhorted his listeners to launch a “moral renaissance.”
America’s founders, Barr said this week, believed that religion was “essential to maintaining a free country” and that limited government could work only because people were religious. Barr claimed that he believes in the separation of church and state, but then launched into a diatribe against “militant secularists”:
But what permits a limited government and minimal command and control of the population and allow people to have freedom of choice in their lives, and trust in the people, is the fact that they are a people capable of disciplining themselves according to moral values. And I feel today religion is being driven out of the marketplace of ideas, and there is an organized, militant secular effort to drive religion out of our lives. To me, the problem today is not that religious people are trying to impose their views on nonreligious people, it’s the opposite. It’s that militant secularists are trying to impose their values on a religious people, and they’re not accommodating the freedom of religion of people of faith.
Given that the Trump administration is aggressively turning the religious right’s agenda into law and policy, and filling the federal judiciary with judges who embrace Barr’s right-wing ideology, it is beyond ridiculous for Barr to claim that religion is being “driven out of the marketplace of ideas.”
Religious-right activists are running federal agencies, being named to lifetime federal judgeships, and serving in Congress and state legislatures. They have built a vast political and cultural infrastructure of universities, law schools, radio and TV networks, and political organizations. They dominate the Republican Party and write its platform. Joining white evangelicals and Pentecostal Christians in Trump’s amen corner is an influential network of right-wing Catholics of which Barr is a part.
And they are in fact working hard and all too successfully to impose their views on people who disagree: they are trying to criminalize abortion and many forms of birth control. They continue to resist marriage equality and are plotting to get the Supreme Court to reverse that landmark ruling so that they can strip legal recognition and protection from same-sex couples and their families. They have prevailed upon the Trump administration to reverse, by decree, legal protections for transgender people.
In the name of religious freedom, the Trump administration and its religious-right allies are trying to dramatically undermine the separation of church and state and require state and federal governments to fund religious schools and nonprofit organizations. They have granted a waiver from federal prohibitions on religious discrimination to allow taxpayer-funded evangelical foster-care and adoption agencies to refuse to place children with Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim parents—or with anyone who doesn’t meet their narrow religious test.
Meanwhile, White House aide Paula White, along with the president’s supporters in Christian media, regularly portray the president as anointed by God and denounce his political opponents as embodiments of the demonic agenda of Satan.