The progressive left are outraged over two recent landmark speeches given by Attorney General William Barr. But their howls of complaint serve only to illustrate just how right Barr was about their contempt for the Constitution, the rule of law and religious freedom.
What first set them off was Barr’s Oct. 11 speech at the University of Notre Dame, in which he affirmed the importance of religion in our nation’s history and noted that religious freedom is under attack.
The speech was an important reminder of the role the Framers envisioned for religion in our nation. It also served as a warning to those who would try to violate others’ religious freedom. Clearly, the nation’s chief legal officer is on the case and prepared to fight for the First Amendment rights of all Americans.
Barr began his speech by observing that religion serves a necessary purpose in our republic. The Constitution guarantees individual liberty, and religion prevents liberty from devolving into licentiousness. Religion, he noted, reins in “the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good” because it teaches the people to “want what is good.”
That’s why John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Barr continued by noting that secularists and moral relativists are attacking the Judeo-Christian underpinnings of our country by ostracizing, ridiculing and suing those who publicly practice their religious beliefs.
This is not “live and let live,” Barr argued, but rather “organized destruction” with an eye to “compel people to violate their conscience.”
Predictably, left-wing commentators attacked Barr, accusing him of saying that atheists have no place in the country and suggesting that he is trying to set up “witch hunts” and “pogroms” against non-Christians.
Barr did nothing of the sort. His summary of religion’s role in our country’s history echoes the views of the Framers of the Constitution. Sentiments like the one above by John Adams are common among the Framers’ writings.
Barr was warning the nation about the misuse of the law to subdue religious expression and to force individual Americans to participate in practices that violate their religious faith. And his Justice Department has put action to his words, defending the religious rights of not just Christians, but also Muslims, Jews, Native Americans and others.
Of course, not all the Founders were deeply religious. Still, they recognized what Barr reiterated: that the Christian tradition teaches the people to be moral, and individual morality is needed in a society that guarantees individual liberty.
But rather than responding to Barr’s substantive arguments and engaging in an intelligent debate about a principle that was fundamental to the founding of this nation, the left hurled invective.
Barr’s second speech came Nov. 15 at the Federalist Society’s annual convention. There, he spoke about the unitary executive—the constitutional doctrine that simply says that the powers of the executive branch must “be exercised under the president’s supervision.” Again, heads spun.
Barr’s theme was that the federal courts and Congress have damaged the president’s authority by usurping his power. This, he argued, has endangered the freedom, liberty and security of the American people.
The Framers wanted an executive who could “act with energy, consistency and decisiveness,” he noted, yet Trump’s opponents have pursued an explicit strategy to use “every tool and maneuver available to sabotage the functioning of his administration.” This self-styled “Resistance” acts as if Trump is “an occupying military power” and that his administration is “not legitimate,” which Barr thinks is a very dangerous development. He labeled it an “incendiary notion to import into the politics of a democratic republic.”
Much of this speech detailed related misbehavior in Congress and the courts. He argued that it is the president’s critics who are “shredding” the Constitution and “waging a war on the rule of law,” not President Trump. He concluded by urging the nation to put aside the political “passions” of the moment, lest they “cause us to permanently disfigure the genius of our constitutional structure.”
There seems little doubt that these are two of the most significant speeches given by an attorney general since Edwin Meese’s 1985 speech to the American Bar Association on the importance of originalism in interpreting the Constitution. That speech also outraged liberals, but almost 35 years later, that presentation is recognized as one of the most important landmarks in the fight to preserve the Constitution and our Republic.
There is no doubt in our minds that Barr’s two speeches will also withstand the test of time and will be seen as a wake-up call.
This piece originally appeared in BROAD + LIBERTY