On October 11, Attorney General Bill Barr delivered a speech at the University of Notre Dame Law School with the message that we should be concerned about the secularist agenda to oppress religious people (specifically Catholics) and take away their freedom of religion — yes, you read that right.
To me, it’s no surprise that this speech, which referenced the First Amendment and called out the media, pop culture, and mass communications in general, quickly drew the attention of columnists and op-ed writers — the story was covered by the New Yorker, Washington Monthly, MSNBC and several smaller news platforms.
“First is the force, fervor, and comprehensiveness of the assault on religion we are experiencing today. This is not decay; it is organized destruction. Secularists, and their allies among the “progressives,” have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values,” Barr said, painting himself and fellow Catholics as the victims of some malicious effort to silence them.
The majority of articles on this topic took similar positions that the above statement and the speech as a whole is extremely concerning. They say that Barr shared a warped perception of the First Amendment. And I can’t help but agree.
He explicitly brought up the First Amendment, noting that the government failed to enforce religious freedom when a gay teacher in Indiana sued the Archdiocese after being fired from a Catholic school for his same-sex marriage. He claimed that Montana’s Blaine Amendment, which prevents private religious institutions from receiving state funding, violates the First Amendment. Barr criticized the legalization of abortion, euthanasia and safe injection sights, and he criticized modern media for advocating for it — referencing a lack of morality.
I find Barr’s perspective to be both a bit confusing and hypocritical because the establishment clause in the First Amendment prohibits the government from making any law respecting an establishment of religion and therefore can’t favor one religion over another or the lack thereof. Wouldn’t giving catholic schools state funding and protecting them from being sued also potentially be unconstitutional?
Additionally, Barr, along with the rest of the Trump Administration, openly blames news media and mass communication for this “lack of morality.” While his criticism of the media doesn’t violate the freedom of the press, the general idea of public officials attempting to discredit the media is problematic and ironic when preaching in favor of the First Amendment.